National Parks Paddling Bill Introduced in Congress

Law would expand kayaking and canoeing in Yellowstone and Grand Teton

The Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act would allow watercraft onto a greater number of rivers and streams in those parks. (Vladimir Pustovit/Flickr)
Photo: Vladimir Pustovit/Flickr

Cynthia Lummis, a Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, has introduced a bill that would allow recreational, human-powered vessels to travel down otherwise off-limits waterways in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, according to Lummis’ website.

The proposed Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act, dated February 13, would give the U.S. Park Service three years to study the potential streams that could be opened to paddle sports while explicitly preventing commercial paddling operations beyond what is currently permitted. The bill is a revised version of the River Paddling Protection Act, which Lummis introduced in November 2013, and which failed to move in the Senate over the summer, according to National Parks Traveler.

Both bills have been greeted with skepticism from conservationist organizations, which worry that opening up the waterways to greater recreation may open up the parks to greater abuse. They also say a three-year window isn’t enough time to study the effects of greater paddling permissions on the local ecosystem.

“The area of untouched rivers and streams that park managers would be forced to study is approximately three and a half times the length of the entire Mississippi River,” Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), told National Parks Traveler in a prepared statement. “Such heavy-handed efforts may prove costly and counterproductive to the protection of park resources and enjoyment for all visitors.”

As Outside wrote last June, efforts to grant mountain bikers, kayakers, and other outdoor athletes greater access to the National Park system have often drawn the ire of conservation groups like the NPCA, many of which perceive recreationists as agents of the park’s destruction.

The conflict has pitted nature conservationists and adventure sports athletes—traditional allies in the fight against development—against one another, but Lummis believes her bill would lead both groups to a compromise.

“I took great care to preserve the discretion of park managers to actually manage paddling as they do any other recreational activity in the parks, and to ensure park managers have the time and resources necessary to go through the proper studies and analysis,” she said in a statement on her website. “The end result will be yet another way for the public to have truly unforgettable experiences enjoying the Wyoming treasures that are Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.”

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