Yellowstone National Park & the winter use debate: community resilience and tourism impacts in the gateway community of West Yellowstone, MT

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


This study explores the socioeconomic impacts of the National Park Service's winter use management of Yellowstone National Park on the gateway community of West Yellowstone, Montana. As a highly specialized, tourism-dependent gateway community, the National Park Service's management decisions that affect park visitation also impact the economic viability of West Yellowstone. Previously, scholars have documented the challenges presented by tourism economies and 'resortification' in small communities, the process of a small town being converted into a resort destination with numerous vacation properties, increasing absentee business ownership, a highly seasonal economy and escalating real estate prices. Less is known about how the challenges of resortification and industrial tourism interact with the dimensions of community resilience within a gateway community. Community resilience exists as a mechanism for rural and remote communities to identify vulnerabilities, buffer change, develop resources and promote local progress during periods of uncertainty and stress. This paper explores how the snowmobiling restrictions and winter use management of Yellowstone National Park impacted the community resilience of the tourism-dependent gateway community of West Yellowstone. The debate over winter use management and snowmobiling restrictions in Yellowstone National Park drained the community resources of West Yellowstone and negatively impacted the economic viability of local wintertime businesses. Consequently, challenges of resortification intensified and diminished several dimensions of West Yellowstone's community resilience. The mixed methods approach provides insight to how West Yellowstone's social and economic well-being have been affected since the snowmobiling restrictions were implemented and how the tourism landscape of the entire Yellowstone region has changed. The case study of West Yellowstone contributes knowledge of the economics of gateway communities, the implications of federal land management decisions, and the community resilience of tourism-dependent, gateway towns.




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