By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press Writer
BILLINGS Far from Old Faithful, over
43 acres most tourists never visit,
Yellowstone National Park has what some
conservationists see as an eyesore.
It’s called Stephens Creek, and park officials
agree it could use some work. A proposed
plan under review would curb sprawl,
they say, improve wildlife habitat and otherwise
help clean up the northern section of
the park now used administratively for such
things as equipment storage and sheltering pack animals.
During some winters, including this past
one, the park has temporarily held bison
captured near the park’s northern border at
Stephens Creek under a federal-state disease
management plan. The capture facility,
addressed by separate, previous environmental
studies, would stay where it is under
the plan, according to the park.
“As it looks right now, it certainly
doesn’t have the characteristics you would
hope for, and expect at, a national park,”
said Tim Stevens of the National Parks
Conservation Association. “We’re pleased
the park is taking steps to address the eyesore
nature of the place.”
Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said the
park needs areas like Stephens Creek for logistical reasons.
Still, “reducing the impact in that area is
important,” he said, noting that parts of it
can be seen by motorists on a nearby highway.
The Stephens Creek area is northwest of
Gardiner, a southern Montana tourist town
and park gateway.
It includes former agricultural lands
added in the 1930s to the national park, an
environmental study shows. Over time, the
site expanded incrementally, without
defined borders, and the toll of homesteading
and park operations from corrals
and bison capture to storage and a
nursery have left much of the area without
native vegetation, the park document shows.
Under the proposal, sprawl would be limited
to the current 43-acre footprint, and not
allowed to grow without additional environmental
review. A barn would be built in part
to improve conditions for horses and staff,
and unused vehicles or other equipment
would be sold or removed from the park.
Certain noxious weeds would be controlled
yearly, and native vegetation would be
planted, the proposal states.
Among other things, the plan also calls
for managing the area to “best maintain”
wildlife habitat as key winter range and
pronghorn fawning areas.
Amy McNamara of the Greater
Yellowstone Coalition said the National
Park Service should be doing everything
possible to provide high-quality pronghorn
habitat. She and Stevens said they would
have liked for the park to have looked at
reducing the overall footprint.
Public comments on the plan are being
taken by the park through July 14.
Nash did not have details on the estimated
cost of the proposal. He said barn construction
would require money the park
doesn’t have now, and that grants or other
private funding likely would be pursued.