Friday, June 24, 2011

Welcome Back Summer...

It is 9:30pm, and the sky is a mixture of blue and pink as the sun sets behind the Lodgepole Pines. It's Solstice, the first official day of summer, and for a change the weather actually parallels what that date suggests. Summer has arrived to the interior of Yellowstone. The snow has finally melted in my backyard and our porch railing have been reassembled.  The new deck furniture which Shane built himself out of salvaged wood are accented by our Thai prayer flags. And there is no better way to celebrate the newly arrived sun and warmth than by having a Solstice Party.

By 7pm on June 21st there were 30 people in my backyard. Each brought a dish to share and before I knew it we were all dining on a variety of flavors from homemade Asian wraps to Italian meatballs. Both old friends and new friends were sharing stories, learning from each other, laughing in unison and creating some of their first memories of the summer. A summer spent living and working in Yellowstone is a wonderful example of community. People of all ages and walks of life arrive each day from all over the country. They move into park housing and soon report to their appropriate office- all hoping that their work will have them outside more than inside! They make new friends and are united by a passion to see, experience and protect the Park's Resources. Age, sex, and race seem to matter little.

These past few weeks the human population of Grant Village has grown exponentially while the wildlife also abounds. Elk, which have spent all winter at the Elk Refuge, (south of the interior) slowly made their way back to the Grant Village area. Female Elk sprout up in park housing, the meadows along the main road and in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This annual pilgrimage was not a new sight for the seasoned staff but for those of us experiencing our first Spring in Grant Village, it has been quite the treat!

Opening my front door slowly last week, I poked my head outside and looked both ways. "The coast is clear" I thought to myself. I was being extra careful as news had travelled around that a Mama Elk had just recently dropped a calf in our housing area. Walking slowly with my pup Alice we made sure to use our keen listening and seeing skills. Sure enough, coming around the corner, I found Mama and her calf cuddled in the sparse brush off the side of the road in housing. Quickly, Mama glanced at me and gave me that panicked Mama Elk look. I'd been thoroughly warned about that look! Mama Elk routinely charge humans when they get too close to their babes. Backing up slowly I re-routed our walk to give her a wide breadth of space.I was soon free of her scolding eye however, Mama continued to wreak havoc in housing for the week. If you weren't being extra careful you would find yourself being chased into your car, your home or even your neighbors home with little to no warning!

 But now I want you to imagine having 5-7 protective Mama Elk with calves in the middle of the West Thumb Geyser Basin with over 300 people at any given time. Yep, now, that is chaos!

What was supposed to be my team's first week of leading guided walks through the Geyser Basin ended up being a week of educating and protecting thousands of people about Elk. After several Mama Elk chargings and some VERY close encounters, it was officially decided to shut down West Thumb Geyser Basin to the public! Placing barricades at each entrance, some determined visitors ignored the barricades only to be chased out of the basin by VERY angry Mama's! Each day our barricades got a little bigger and more detailed until finally all visitors got the message that the Basin was indeed, closed. The interpretive staff stood guard at the entrance areas while also using props like skulls, antlers and pictures to educate visitors about our commitment to protecting the park's resources, which included Elk! But just when things seemed to be under control, two bull Elk with small yet growing antlers, decided they would hang out in the West Thumb Geyser Basin parking lot for two days as well! Hello, Chaos! And so, I take my hats off to all of the Grant Village Field Rangers- whether they work for law enforcement, resource management or interpretation, as they all diligently worked together to ensure visitor and resource safety in the Nation's first National Park.   

Although the Mama Elk and their calves have moved out of the Basin, and into the higher surrounding hillsides, this has been merely a prelude to the chaos that lies ahead of us. As children all across the country finish their last day of school it will take just a fraction of time for  families to pile into their cars, SUV's or RV's, and drive to Yellowstone Park. They will flock to the park in army sized numbers with hopes and dreams of seeing Bears, Bison and Elk.  Every campground and every lodge inside the park will be full by 11am, while the roads will be an endless sea of vehicles.  Soon, our community of rangers will experience more than just Solstice Parties. As hoards of people flock to Yellowstone between late June and early September, our community of rangers will be tasked with visitor and resource protection and education for more than 2 million people. They will lead a variety of educational walks, talks and hikes while simultaneously keeping visitors 100 yards from Bears and Wolves and 25 yards from all other large animals. They will respond to wildlife jams, car accidents, domestic violence, injuries and missing persons reports. They will repair boardwalks, pick up trash, clean restrooms, and purify water. They will try their hardest to maintain the delicate balance between preserving wilderness while also providing public enjoyment. A difficult yet rewarding task in the Nation's first National Park. 

1 comment:

  1. Reading your blog today was almost like being there. Thanks to all you park rangers for what you do. My favorite memories are of the ranger programs we have attended while visiting National Parks.