Park features have always been subject to some influence from human vandalism. In the park's early years it was common for visitors to use thermal features as "wishing wells", and this practice continues to some degree today. Coins, rocks, trash, logs or stumps, and other paraphernalia are found in the narrow vents of geysers and hot springs. Features have been plugged up, and little can be done to repair the damage. Radical attempts to siphon surface water and induce eruptions have occasionally been tried on famous features such as Morning Glory Pool, with varying degrees of success. Damage also occurs when people leave walkways and climb on features, or occasionally break pieces of sinter or travertine off for souvenirs (Marler 1973).
Periodically, applications are made for geothermal leases in Known Geothermal Resource Areas (KGRAs) outside the park, such as in the Island Park KGRA west of the park, and the Corwin Springs KGRA north of YNP near LaDuke Hot Springs. A rapid change in energy economics could increase pressure to open non-federal lands to leasing and drilling activity. Thus, research is needed to determine the extent to which YNP's geothermal systems connect with areas of lease application west and north of the boundary.
Volcanic and seismic processes are very active in the park. A network of seismic monitoring stations in the park provides data to help understand overall seismicity in the region and gauge the magnitude of earth tremors. Thermal features and basins respond violently to volcanic/seismic activity, which creates both a serious hazard to humans and an opportunity to study and possibly predict major geologic hazards. Thus, maintenance of a long-term geothermal data base also helps us manage visitor use to increase public safety in a naturally hazardous environment.
Legislative restrictions on geothermal development around Yellowstone, such as the Old Faithful Protection Act introduced in 1992, have failed to pass Congressional approval. In 1994, the NPS and the state of Montana agreed to monitor and control the use of hot, warm, and cold groundwater in areas just north of the park. Proponents of water use must show that proposed geothermal development will not adversely affect park features. This Water Rights Compact could serve as a model for agreements between the park and other states to ensure the continued flow of heat and water to Yellowstone's famous geysers and hot springs.
Marler, George. 1973. Inventory of Thermal Features of the Firehole River Geyser Basins and Other Selected Areas of Yellowstone National Park. Natl. Tech. Info. Serv., U.S. Dept. Commerce. Pub. PB221 289. 652p.
Did You Know?
At peak summer levels, 3,500 employees work for Yellowstone National Park concessioners and about 800 work for the National Park Service.