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Forbidden Fruit: Paddling in Yellowstone National Park

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By Tyler Allen
Yellowstone National Park has over 2,000 miles of rivers and streams coursing through its boundaries. From slow, meandering flatwater to steep, boiling whitewater and giant waterfalls, the park offers many hydrologic marvels. But aside from a five-mile stretch of the Lewis River between Lewis and Shoshone Lake, boating is prohibited on the rivers and creeks of Yellowstone. To experience these waterways one must casually observe from shore.
Three parks in the National Park System prohibit paddling on most of their rivers: Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Yosemite. The latter two have designated stretches (of the Snake and Merced, respectively) that allow commercial operations to run whitewater trips on a regulated basis, but Yellowstone doesn’t allow commercial or private boaters on any of the whitewater stretches within the park.
Boating in Yellowstone was outlawed in 1950 as a reaction to the park’s depleted fisheries. The rationale was that bank anglers could not access as much water that anglers from boats were able to reach. Whitewater kayakers and flatwater canoeists have suffered the consequences of that decision ever since.
Yellowstone has stretches of water that, coupled with the ex

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