By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

Paddling on most of the rivers in Yellowstone National Park has been illegal since 1950, when

it was banned due to concerns of overfishing. A bill currently in Congress aims to change

that.

The U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee on Jan. 28 unanimously passed HR 3492,

the River Paddling Protection Act, which could open up rivers in Yellowstone, Grand Teton

National Park and the National Elk Refuge to paddlers. The bill passed the House on Feb. 6 and moves next to the Senate floor

for a vote.

Introduced by Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., the Paddling Protection Act is intended to create

a dialogue between paddlers and park authorities instead of opening up every waterway to

paddling, Lummis said in her introductory remarks.

“We want to revoke the paddling ban that was passed in 1950,” said Moe Witschard, treasurer

of the American Packrafting Association based in Wilson, Wyo. “The current administration of

the park, when asked to study legalization, they fall back on this ban and say, ‘our hands are

tied.’ The first logical step is to revoke that ban.”

The Department of the Interior released a statement on Nov. 21 stating its opposition to the

proposed bill.

“Although the Department supports expanding outdoor recreation opportunities, we strongly

oppose HR 3492 as introduced,” the statement reads. “By overriding existing regulations and

regulatory authority over hand-propelled boating, this legislation would set a troubling precedent

by disrupting the carefully balanced management of recreational activities and resource

protection that the National Park Service provides at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National

Parks and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides at the National Elk Refuge.”

Yellowstone has more than 2,000 miles of rivers and streams, but only a five-mile stretch on the

Lewis River between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes is currently open to paddling, along with all

park lakes except for Sylvan, Eleanor, Twin Lakes and Beach Springs Lagoon. Motorized boats

are allowed on Yellowstone and Lewis Lakes.