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CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Yellowstone National Park is seeking ideas for improving the developed area around Old Faithful geyser, the first step toward creating a long-range plan for one of the most popular attractions in the national park system.

Yellowstone had a record 3.3 million visitors last year. An estimated 4 in 5 park visitors go to Old Faithful, park spokesman Al Nash said Monday.

"We need to do our best to look at what the future might be," he said.

Park officials don't have any specific proposals for the Old Faithful area yet. For now, they're shopping around for ideas from the public, Nash said.

The planning could lead to new construction, he said, or possibly just keeping things as they are.

Whatever is considered, environmentalists are likely to make themselves heard. Even minor development at Old Faithful, such as a cell phone tower that went up nearly a decade ago, has proven controversial over the years.

"The challenge is that Old Faithful is probably the most heavily visited location in the national park," said Mark Pearson, with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "How to accommodate that crush of visitors while maintaining the aesthetic appeal of the geyser basin will be the big challenge."

He said the coalition plans to submit comments.

Old Faithful already is considerably developed with shops, restaurants and lodges.

The 106-year-old Old Faithful Inn is one of the largest log hotels in the world. The Snow Lodge, completed in 1999, hosts visitors during the winter, when roads are closed to cars and visitors can only reach Old Faithful by snowmobile or snowcoach.

The Old Faithful plan is one of several completed or anticipated for developed areas around the park.

A just-completed long-range plan for the Tower-Roosevelt area in northern Yellowstone calls for any new construction to blend in with the rustic and historic nature of that area.

Long-range plans also will be written for the Lake area on the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs area in northern Yellowstone, Nash said.

The open houses for the Old Faithful planning are set for Monday at Old Faithful; May 18 in Gardiner, Mont.; and May 19 in West Yellowstone, Mont.

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