Congress Moves to Open Up Paddling in National Parks

A bill advances that would allow paddlers, kayakers, and other hand-propelled watercraft on 450 miles of rivers and streams in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
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A bill advances that would allow paddlers, kayakers, and other hand-propelled watercraft on 450 miles of rivers and streams in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
Grand Teton

Grand Teton National Park is one of two parks that would be affected by the bill to allow paddling in national parks. (fortherock/Flickr)

The U.S House Natural Resources Committee voted Thursday in a 23-15 vote to approve a bill that would force the National Park Service (NPS) to open up more than 400 miles of streams and rivers to paddle boards, kayaks and other “hand-propelled watercraft” in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks—a decision that has caused a divide between environmentalists and tourists.

Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming pushed the legislation that would require NPS to assess 6,500 miles of waterways and determine how passage of the bill would impact fish and wildlife there. However, a last-minute amendment to the bill will already allow visitors to use—at a minimum—450 miles of those streams and rivers without any assessment by NPS.

The bill will now head to the floor of the House, and is supported by recreational paddling groups who have long awaited the chance to expand into these two major national parks.

However, conservation and environmental groups say passing the bill could lead to the spread of invasive aquatic plants, damage to native fish habitats, and disruption of grizzly bears’ habitats.

In a statement released Thursday, officials at the National Parks Conservation Association criticized the committee’s decision.

“The National Parks Conservation Association is disappointed that the House Committee on Natural Resources today chose to advance legislation that stands to have far-reaching, negative impacts on Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, two of our country’s crown jewels.”

Kristin Brengel, legislative direction for the National Parks Conservation Association, added that, “The majority of their visitors want to hear that we’re protecting the wildlife. There are lots of other opportunities in the region for paddling.”

The full House and Senate have yet to vote on the bill, and it is unlikely the legislation will get further attention this session.