Eroding Shoreline Threatens Historic Peale Island Cabin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Rebecca Beavers
Rebecca Beavers, Courtney Schupp, Ian Slayton, Maria Caffrey
Posted on: 11/25/2015 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Yellowstone National Park collaborated with the National Park Service Geologic Resources Division (NPS GRD) to examine the causes of shoreline erosion on Peale Island and to identify adaptation options for protecting the shoreline and a historic cabin on the island. 


Peale Island is located in a wilderness area in the South Arm of Yellowstone Lake. It is composed of glacial till and has no source of new coarse sediment but does receive a minor supply of erodible fine sediments. Several processes may be accelerating shoreline erosion, including a change in sediment transport processes, tectonic uplift, longer ice-free periods, tree death, and changes in wave and wind patterns. Climate change has already affected the park in ways such as reduced annual snowpack, declining streamflow, increased stream temperature, and more frequent wildfire events. Ongoing climate change has the potential to drive several process changes: increased precipitation may raise Yellowstone Lake water levels and increase shoreline submergence; higher summer temperatures may increase evaporation that lowers water levels; and warmer temperatures may increase the number of ice-free days on Yellowstone Lake and cause a corresponding increase in exposure of the Peale Island shoreline to wind-driven waves and coastal erosion. 

The historic Peale Island Cabin is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and is used regularly by park staff including backcountry patrols. It is located on a narrow spit on the eroding north end of the island. As of 2013, the shoreline had moved closer than 2 m (6 ft) from the cabin porch, and the number of live trees along the shoreline continued to decrease. 
The park needed to know how the shoreline would continue to change, how it would threaten the preservation and functionality of the historic cabin, what options were available to protect the shoreline and cabin, and the impacts of implementing alternative management options. 


The park asked the NPS GRD to develop information about shoreline change on Peale Island and to clarify the options for the Peale Island Cabin and shoreline. The resulting natural resources report (Beavers et al. 2014) presented and described 10 coastal adaptation options:

  • Increasing/improving public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
  • Conducting/gathering additional research, data, or products
  • Monitor, learn, and interpret the change: Continue current management practices
  • Record, then let go: Deconstruct cabin
  • Improve structure resiliency: Elevate cabin
  • Indirect/offsite action: Nourish shoreline with compatible sediment
  • Indirect/offsite action: Armor shoreline with rocks, logs, or other materials
  • Relocate cabin to Peale Island interior
  • Relocate cabin to outer shore of Yellowstone Lake
  • Replace cabin function and structure 

Many of the adaptation options suggest similar “no-regrets” actions, including monitoring shoreline position and lake water level; documenting the historic resource and cultural landscape; and monitoring the condition of the historic structure. 

Several datasets would improve estimates of how long each option would protect Peale Island resources: historic wave and wind conditions; detailed erosion rates for the Peale Island shoreline; and tree stand chronology data. 

Outcomes and Conclusions

As of September 2014, the park intends to initiate a planning process for an alternative management option. The process will include screening of the potential project, discussions with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office and engagement in appropriate National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act processes to evaluate the project and make a final decision (Dave Hallac, Chief, Yellowstone Center for Resources, email, 21 October 2014). In summer 2015, alternate sites along the shores of the South Arm of Yellowstone Lake were evaluated to define suitable sites for potential relocation of the cabin. 

This is an ongoing project. 
This case study is part of the 2015 National Park Service report, Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies. These case studies initially were developed by park managers as part of a NPS-led coastal adaptation training in May 2012. The case studies follow the format created for EcoAdapt’s Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) database, including a list of adaptation strategies. All case studies were updated and modified in September 2013 and March 2015 in response to a growing number of requests from coastal parks and other coastal management agencies looking for examples of climate change adaptation strategies for natural and cultural resources and assets along their ocean, lacustrine, and riverine coasts. 


Beavers, R., C. Schupp, I. Slayton, & M. Caffrey. (2015). Eroding Shoreline Threatens Historic Peale Island Cabin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming [Case study on a project of Yellowstone National Park]. Excerpted from Schupp, C.A., R.L. Beavers, and M.A. Caffrey [eds.]. 2015. Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies. NPS 999/129700. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado. Retrieved from CAKE:…;(Last updated November 2015)

Affiliated Organizations

Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is America's first national park. Located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, it is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world's most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The Geologic Resources Division is a part of the Natural Resource Program Center, administered by the Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science. The Natural Resource Program Center consists of eight divisions: Air Resources, Biological Resources Management, Environmental Quality, Geologic Resources, Inventory and Monitoring, Natural Sounds & Night Sky, Social Science, and Water Resources.

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