How do I even begin to describe the experience that was the “first great ride in the last best place”?
This was my and Bugman’s first-ever cycle tour, which we completed on our tandem to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary on August 22. We’ve got the date for the 2014 Cycle Greater Yellowstone blocked out on our calendar already. How’s that for an endorsement?
The gist: some 700 cyclists and about 100 support crew and volunteers in a week’s time circumnavigated the north borderlands of Yellowstone National Park in this inaugural bike ride (route to change in subsequent years). The point of the ride was not just to provide an unmatched cycling experience but also to introduce a new crowd of people to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the issues the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (not to be confused with the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee) is bringing to light, and to make connections with the communities surrounding the park.
I’ve gone deep into an Internet wormhole looking up information about the park and the ecosystem to include in this epic series of blog posts. I won’t come close to scratching the surface on the complexity of this region. I’ll try to touch on a few points here and there, but how’s this for a summary:
Yellowstone was established as the world’s first national park in 1872. The U.S. Army protected the park from poachers and other opportunists until 1917, when the park was transferred to the newly-created National Park Service.
From what I understand, the park boundaries were drawn up a bit arbitrarily, mostly with geologic considerations in mind. That creates some challenges when you start thinking in terms of functioning ecosystems, which, in the case of Yellowstone, has been estimated to encompass 20 million acres – not just the ~2 million acres in the park itself. The park’s iconic megafauna – the bison, elk, bears, and wolves that are the symbols of Yellowstone – rely on ecosystem webs that extend well outside the park boundaries. (And, in the case of climate change, which is affecting the whitebark pine and causing ripple effects throughout the system, the ecosystem webs extend well outside our nation’s boundaries.)
Arbitrary human boundaries create another complexity: jurisdiction. Within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the following governmental entities, at minimum, have authority: Department of the Interior National Park Service, Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Agriculture Forest Service; administrations at two national parks, six national forests, and two national wildlife refuges; the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; and a large number of local jurisdictions (counties, towns, conservation districts, irrigation districts, etc.).
Which points to another issue facing the region: what is the highest and best use of this land in the Yellowstone region? You’ll get a different answer depending on which person or governmental agency you ask. Wildlife protection. Tourism development. Economic development. Vacation homes. Mining, Agriculture. Ranching. Energy extraction. Camping, Fishing. Hiking. Boating. Hunting. Snowmobiling. Horseback riding. Bike riding … the list goes on and on.
Thus, the need for a coalition of interested parties to come together, work together, and work through the tangle of competing interests.
Which brings me back to the bike ride designed to bring some more interested parties to the table . . .
I must say – this was a VERY well-organized ride.
Some people booked hotel rooms in communities along the way, but most people camped. Bugman and I used the “tent sherpa” service. It was very nice having our tent put up and taken down for us every day – especially on the days when it rained. This tour provided ALL meals through a catering service that is accustomed to feeding wildland firefighters. Between those hearty meals and the well-stocked rest stops, I think I probably GAINED weight while pedaling 380-plus miles including 10,000-feet-plus of climbing. Another definite plus: the shower trucks! Two semi trucks outfitted with individual shower stalls and on-demand hot water! True luxury!!! Other amenities included SAG vehicle support, on-course bike mechanics, gear transport service, and nightly live entertainment.
I’ll give a truncated day-by-day recounting of each day, with photos. Check it out under the following links:
Cycle Greater Yellowstone: Day 7 ride to Red Lodge
Copyright 2013 by Katie Bradshaw