The Appropriateness of Snowmobiling in National Parks: An Investigation of the Meanings of Snowmobiling Experiences in Yellowstone National Park
The debate over snowmobiling and other types of motorized recreation in US national parks signals the need for a better understanding of the meanings of these experiences. The fundamental issue facing many parks is whether snowmobiling is an appropriate activity. The matter of appropriateness is anchored in two questions: (1) Does snowmobiling in national parks cause unacceptable biophysical and social impacts? (2) Are snowmobiling experiences consistent with the fundamental purposes of national parks? This article particularly addresses the appropriateness issue and presents the findings of an interpretive study of the meanings of snowmobiling experiences in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). Sixty-five semistructured interviews were conducted with winter visitors who used snowmobiles in the park during the winter season of 1999. Overall, the study findings reveal that visitors on snowmobiles view YNP as a place to experience its wildland attributes, such as natural scenery, geothermal features, and, especially, wildlife. Snowmobiling is perceived as a mode of transportation rather than the experience in and of itself. The results challenge the popular image of snowmobiles as thrill-craft and snowmobilers as thrill-seekers. The study demonstrates that snowmobiling in YNP affords highly meaningful recreational experiences, grounded in appreciating the parks unique natural features and attributes.