Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spring Destruction

Earlier this week I attended a meeting in Mammoth to formally meet the Park's new Superintendent Mr. Dan Wenk. In an effort to get to know the park and his employees better, Dan asked the group to talk about "What keeps us up at night?" With an eager attitude and a big smile I came up with nothing! I could not name one work related item that truly and honestly has me so concerned that it "keeps me awake at night". Of course there are day to day challenges, but nothing so epic that it clutters my thoughts. But, if this meeting had taken place 72 hours later I just might have had a few answers!  

This week, winter has reluctantly been giving way to spring in the interior of Yellowstone, but rather than leaving us with spring flowers it left us with a big old mess! Below freezing temperatures still plagued the night while the warmth of the mid afternoon turned the snow into wet mush. A combination of wet snow, hail and rain fell on the ground each day, adding not a only a heavy moisture content to the existing snow but also provided an element of confusion for the Rangers every morning as we got ready for work. As each day past we would soon learn that it was not only the wildlife who took a hard hit this winter and spring, but the park's building and roads as well. As heavy wet snow sat on top of the buildings it was to no surprise when the first of the "spring damage" reports filtered in.

Among the first reports was that of the Fishing Bridge Service Station. Some time during the last big snowfall the roof could no longer withstand the immense weight of the snow, causing the entire roof to collapse. As it collapsed it tore down the entire face of the store. With caution tape all around, the employees have begun the tedious process of filtering through the rubble to see what can be salvaged.

The following day, after the Fishing Bridge Service Station Disaster, warmer daytime temperatures began melting more snow. Many of the roofs covered in snow began to slide. Among the "slides" was a summer house at the South Entrance. As the massive 3 ft. sheet of snow-ice slid from the roof it hit the pre-existing mountain of snow on the ground which deflected the ice sheet into the side of the meager summer home. The walls of the home buckled inward under the intense pressure. It is still standing but who knows if the walls can withstand the immense pressure. As the days continued more and more reports of sagging roofs and buckled walls were reported, and soon it was apparent that spring was going to be a challenge. 

However, in my little world, things were going according to plan. I had one more week to prepare for the arrival of my seasonal staff and soon I would be setting up both the Fishing Bridge and the Grant Village Visitor Centers. Both Visitor Centers were still tucked away in the snow but it was just a matter of days before Maintenance would plow the road to each of these buildings. My organizational chart was keeping me on track, and despite having a heavy workload I was in great spirits and even reserved time to attend a couple of meetings in Mammoth. But little did I know that my sweet little Grant Village Visitor Center, all tucked away in the snow, had sustained damage and was just waiting to be discovered.

Receiving a phone call on Wednesday I was informed that there had been some damage to the VC. I quickly got a hold of Maintenance and soon we were post-holing to the front door  of the Grant Village Visitor Center. The building was ice cold and dark, but the sound of dripping water was unmistakable. The over sized back doors and windows provided just enough light for us to see water, slowly yet steadily, dripping from the ceiling onto the Visitor Center desk. Suddenly, my eye caught a glimpse of something large on the back porch. As we approached the back doors it quickly became apparent that the large structure lying on the porch was in fact part of the roof. It all began to make sense: The newly constructed A-frame roof was collapsing under the pressure of the snow.  

Walking around the exterior of the building we soon confirmed our assumptions. The weight of the heavy snow bent the roof inward on either side of the A-Frame. Wood beams and supports were cracked and even some of the fire suppression system had broken and was lying on the ground.  As the snow melted it found fissures and cracks in the roof and began leaking into the building. Within 30 minutes my whole perfectly planned agenda was out the window and replaced with one hundred questions like: "Will my visitor center open on May 28 as planned?" and "Where will we present our two Ranger led Patio Talks now that the patio is destroyed?" 

Picture courtesy of NPS- YELL
The next day, while I dealt with my little worldly disaster, reports of an avalanche on Sylvan Pass came in. The East Entrance of the Park was closed as four avalanches brought down heavy, wet snow from the steep escarpments of Sylvan Pass. The road was now covered in an expanse of snow averaging 20 feet in height. Thankfully, no one was injured however there was a Ranger on scene when the avalanche took place. Placing a few phone calls, I sadly informed several of my seasonal staff that they were no longer going to be able to enter through the East Entrance of the Park.

Despite the week's chaos, Thursday morning brought sunny skies to Yellowstone and temperatures in the high 50's. The employees of Grant Vand Lake District were all diligently working. Wearing summer uniforms, we would take a few breathers throughout the day to glance up at the sunshine and let the warm rays of sun provide us with both the physical and emotional nutrients needed to get through these challenging times.   


  1. Thanks for the news - even though it's creating a lot more work for everyone up there.

  2. You think the new Supt. is still wondering what keeps you awake at night? If he only knew... sounds like there are enough problems to keep everyone up for weeks and then an avalanche!
    Good luck with your disasters and keep smiling!!!

  3. Thankfully, three of my returning seasonals from last summer have arrived and have plunged into work to help me out! I am so lucky to have am amazing team! Let's hope for sunny skies and smooth sailing from here on out! :-)

  4. We could have sent you some of our sun and 90 degree heat a few days ago, but today it is in the 50's and cloudy. We didn't get the predicted rains so it is still dry here in Georgia. Good some help has arrived for you...hope the sun shines so y'all can get things fixed!