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Old tires faithfully protect Yellowstone’s most famous geyser

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Jim Urquhart/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Tourists use phones and tablets to photograph Old Faithful geyser erupting in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The nearly 3,500 square mile park, straddling the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, was founded in 1872 as America's first national park.

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After driving to Yellowstone National Park, visitors will continue to travel by tire once they’ve exited their vehicle. An old asphalt footpath was replaced by one made from recycled tires at Yellowstone’s most popular attraction, the Old Faithful geyser.

Made from 900 recycled Michelin tires, the 6,400-square-foot path will lead tourists from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge and across a bridge behind the geyser, according to Yellowstone Gate. Visitors often plan their day around the large geyser, which spews water from an underground hot spring every hour or so.

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“Old Faithful and its unique ecosystem is being threatened by these old asphalt pathways,” Steve Iobst, deputy superintendent of Yellowstone, said in a video about the project. Not only are the asphalt pathways breaking apart, but their impenetrable surface prevents water from making it back into the ground.

The new pavement, called Flexi-Pave, by K.B. Industries, is porous. The tire path will allow rain and snow to permeate the surface and help maintain the groundwater system. That water refuels the erupting Old Faithful geyser, which is visited by 90 percent of the park’s 3 million annual visitors.

“The path allows 3,000 gallons of groundwater to pass per square foot. It also is designed to diffuse the water’s force, helping prevent erosion,” Kevin Bagnall, the CEO and founder of KBI, said in a statement.

The tires were first used on the park’s patrol cars, snowplows, and tractors before being broken down. Michelin, which produces world-renowned tourist guides, has been a corporate sponsor of Yellowstone since 2008, and its tire donations save the park roughly $300,000 annually.

The tire path will likely save Yellowstone even more money. The heat- and cold-resistant path is more durable than the eroding asphalt walkways, with lower maintenance costs.

Given that federal funding for the National Park Service has dropped in recent years, financial savings are a major bonus alongside the ecological gains.

• Samantha Cowan is an associate editor and helms TakePart's weekend coverage.

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This article originally appeared at TakePart, a leading source of socially relevant news, features, opinion, entertainment, and information – all focused on the issues that shape our lives.