Imagine the outcry Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk would face from surrounding states and gateway communities whose economies are tied to the park if he has to close it over the winter.
It's a reality Wenk is going to have to consider. It's simple economics: The federal government spends $50 per visitor in winter compared to $10 in summer.
Yellowstone's official winter season began in 1971, when the first Snow Lodge opened at Old Faithful. By the 1992-93 winter, 140,000 people were visiting Yellowstone in cold months, most on snowmobiles.
A fierce debate arose, with the snowmobile industry, towns and states on one side and environmentalists on the other. That fight all but ended this year, with the most recent plan representing a compromise - with fewer, cleaner, quieter snowmobiles - both sides could support.
Now it could be budget issues that return Yellowstone to a quiet, lonely place in winter.
I first visited the park in winter in 1988 for a story about winterkeeper Steve Fuller.
He picked me up on a snowmobile and we made the 40-mile trip to his small house near Canyon Village. We didn't pass anyone.
But for Fuller, who first came to Yellowstone in 1973, the park was already getting crowded. Weekends were getting busier.
It was a far cry from the job he took that no one wanted - with the bad pay and the requirement he had to live in the park all winter. For Fuller, who raised his two daughters there, the isolation was just what he needed.
His main job was shoveling the snow off the roofs in Canyon Village. It was hard work that became zen-like for the former journalist, teacher and hospital worker who had lived all over the world. I remember him sliding down a steep roof, riding the edge of a snow-filled shovel right to the edge.
His passion was photography and he already had developed a worldwide reputation for stunning photographs of Yellowstone in magazines such as National Geographic. If you have stayed in a hotel in Yellowstone, you have likely seen his remarkable pictures that contrast the fire and ice of the park's thermal areas with sunlight and animals.
I returned several times to Fuller's hideaway, into the 1990s. Once, when Steve couldn't pick me up, I hitched a ride with Arden Bailey, a geologist at the Idaho National Laboratory in the summer and a yurt outfitter at Canyon in the winter.
We rode with his partner, Erica Hutchings, then a seasonal ranger, in his ancient Bombardier snowcoach that broke down several times as he carried groceries to his camp. Eventually their Yellowstone Expeditions had a new snowcoach and a brisk business.
When Steve and I cross-country skied through the backcountry in the early years, we could go all day without hearing anything but the glide of skis through powder.
By on a weekend trip in 1993, there was a constant drone of snowmobiles passing through Canyon.
Visiting Yellowstone's interior in winter is not cheap - as much as $500 a day. Closing it may have a major effect economically on communities that have nothing else going on in the winter.
These are the kinds of choices government austerity requires.
Fuller, now well into his 60s, is still at Canyon, in a job and world far more complex than it was 40 years ago. It would be poetic if the man who sought a place to tend to his soul gets a chance to have it all to himself again.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484