July 5, 2010
New boat equips rangers to help visitors in distress
While most of us think of Yellowstone’s rangers on foot or horseback, the largest lakes in Yellowstone National Park are patrolled by rangers in boats. They help ensure the safety of visitors and the protection of the pristine headwaters that lead all the way to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Lewis Lake is one such lake, but the aging boat used to patrol it had to be retired at the end of the 2009 summer season despite the lack of a replacement.
For its modest size, Lewis Lake carries a high volume of boating traffic because it is a popular camping area as well as the boat launch site for access via a channel to the largest backcountry lake in the continental United States -- Shoshone Lake.
Near Yellowstone’s South Entrance Road, Lewis Lake is a high-altitude lake sitting at 7,775 feet of elevation, and is about three miles long and nearly as wide. Its water, when not frozen in the wintertime, rarely exceeds 50°F, and reaches a depth of 108 feet. Here, fast-moving weather systems typical of the Northern Rockies catch campers, anglers, and boaters by surprise, as weather reports are difficult to come by in this remote area.
Yellowstone rangers are often called out in the worst of these conditions and are asked to navigate the high waves and icy waters to help Park visitors in distress. While waves of three to four feet are common, six-foot waves and blinding rain or hailstorms can occur. The biggest danger to visitors is capsizing or swamping their boat and becoming hypothermic in the bone-chilling water.
Thanks to contributions from Michelin North America and several generous individuals to the Ranger Heritage Initiative, the Yellowstone Park Foundation was able to purchase a brand new boat. The Proline 2200BB has a powerful outboard engine that is reliable, efficient, and has the power to operate in this demanding environment. It was launched when the ice thawed from the lake in June of this year and is now being used for daily patrols.
In addition to regular patrol duties, Yellowstone rangers use the boat to assist them in instructing Park visitors on how to keep Yellowstone’s waters clean and free of invasive species. These harmful, non-native species can “hitchhike” into Park waters on fishing gear, on boats, or from bilge water and find their way downstream into the Snake River and eventually, the Columbia River. The Park’s waterways influence many important ecosystems downstream, and it is critical that this “source” be protected and preserved.