Booming Tourism Becomes a Stress Test for Yellowstone

As crowds soar, wildlife can suffer. And for the park's human visitors, the idea of getting away from it all gets tougher.

In the early 1990s Malcolm Wallop, then a U.S. senator from Wyoming, set out on a summer drive with friends in Yellowstone National Park. It wasn’t long before they were in traffic backed up for miles. The cause: a road construction project and countless “wildlife jams.”

The notion that gave birth to America’s first national park in 1872, “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” resided then and still resides in our collective consciousness: the idea of loading up the station wagon and making a pilgrimage to commune, peacefully, in nature. But what the senator experienced was closer to the reality, and embodies one of the biggest problems in Yellowstone today: wilderness contained, nature under management, wild animals obliged to abide by human rules.

Wallop sought a way to solve the problem. He returned to Washington, D.C., and got $300,000 in federal funds so that the National Park Service could study the feasibility of erecting monorails in America’s first national park.

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