by Monte Later and Alan Mebane
Founding of the Yellowstone Institute
Yellowstone National Park Centennial
You had to look up to see it, head back so far you may tip backward.
It snowed last night but just up high. Yosemite's soaring walls, the top
third, were plastered with wet, late April snow. The early morning sun
was just beginning to touch the highest places. Except where a few wispy
fragments of last night's clouds cast shadows as they drifted to
oblivion, the new snow was the white of a snowy egret. Below snow line
the towering walls, usually a somber gray, now something between heavy
dew and light mist. Now the first light, glorious sun, breathed life
into the dampness while mists freshened both air and light.
Others were converging now, toward the same doorway I approached.
None of us knew what experience, new for each of us, lay behond the
door. Three steps up, on each side, there was a bed of freshly tilled
soil surrounded by fragile twine supported on flimsy twelve inch wooden
sticks. On the small wooden sign, just inside the twine, the expected
words would be; "KEEP OFF”, "STAY OUT”, "NO ENTRY” or some other
negative message Instead, the sign said "NEW PLANTINGS, PLEASE”. I hoped
this surprising sign foretold the nature of the discussions we would
We are here, one hundred and fifty of us, to creatively gaze into the
next one hundred year future of the idea of National Parks. Beyond that
there is no pre-written agenda. No idea will be considered too outside
the box for consideration because that's where fresh, unique ideas are
likely to be found. This, 1972, is the centennial anniversary of the
National Parks idea and of the establishment of Yellowstone National
Park, the world's first. Later this year, a Russian delegate to the
World Conference on National Parks at Old Faithful, would congratulate
Yellowstone on being America's first National Park, implying that
the USSR was first for that too.
Here in Yosemite, the one hundred and fifty delegates were selected
from across the nation and each had some interest or connection to the
Parks idea. Jack Anderson (at right), Yellowstone
Superintendent, has invited me to represent Yellowstone. Randomly
divided, we met in discussion, think tank groups of twenty five or so
for four hours then we were re-mixed to be with a new group. An
impressive array of recording equipment was installed in each room.
After the three days of sessions, information gathered would be
transcribed, edited and published in book form.
A man, unfamiliar to me, stood just outside the door as I exited the
first morning session. His eyes immediately riveted on mine and he
trapped me with the surest of any bait, a compliment. By the arm, he led
me to the nearest corner. Friendly and a bit stocky, the man was
impeccably dressed in a crisp business suit, a novelty in Yosemite. He
was one of those people on whom your eyes lock when you are speaking to
He spoke politely but earnestly, "We're all here to envision what our
Parks should be as we begin the second one hundred years. You and the
others living here in the west are blessed. You live on the doorsteps of
our country's most beautiful and numerous National Parks. Those Parks
are in your lives. You have access.”
"Your point is well taken,” I said. "This is a blessing and
one of which we should be reminded lest we begin to take it for granted.
Have you ever visited Yellowstone?”
Without answering the question he said, "My home is in Philadelphia.”
Then, becoming more serious, "My people are born, live and die, often
without ever going more than six city blocks from their beginning and
ending. What shall we tell them of our great National Parks? What is
their right of access?”
My new friend was a black man but it was clear that when he spoke of
"My People' it was not of a state of race but of a state of conditions
This man, whose name I can't recall, was giving me a special gift,
the rare gift of seeing my own comments through his eyes, more
important, through the eyes of 'His People'.
After our conversation in the corner, I never did see the man from
Philadelphia again, but the conversation stayed with me. Of the copious
notes in a folder I brought here there may be no more than one or two I
now felt may be relevant. Though I didn't see it, this man must have
talked to some others at the event because the dominant topic for each
of my discussion groups was access, access for everyone. Interesting
ideas popped up. A novel one was to issue 'Park Stamps' like 'Food
Stamps' to leverage funds for those with limited resources. Virtual
experiences were discussed at length. Could a virtual experience be
created for specific Parks that could be taken to the people? For those
who can't come to the Parks, bring the Parks to them. Virtual
technologies were considered and seemed doable, but remember, this was
1972, before today's amazing virtual technologies were available.
Expanding volume of automobile traffic at the time seemed to be
taking over the Parks. Novel ideas were considered, most of which
involved enhanced public transportation. Think about a monorail system
in Yellowstone! Yosemite was a leader. They had already closed the upper
end of the narrow valley to auto traffic. A quiet natural gas powered
multi-car, rubber tired trolley ran every ten minutes accessing the
upper part of the valley. Before, that beautiful section was riotous
with noise and congestion. Everyone was angry as they competed for
scarce parking. Yosemite was giving us a graphic view into the
"Wow, look over here.” An excited voice beckoned as we entered the
room assigned for this first day's afternoon session. Large windows
framed a spectacular view of Yosemite Falls draped with this morning's
new snow, vaporous clouds and patches of brilliant sunlight. Impossible
to look away. Impossible to get to our work.
"Give us fifteen minutes. We're moving the recording equipment out
onto the patio,” said our sound tech.
An adjacent outdoor stone patio was right under the otherworldly
scene. If our group didn't come up with something good it wasn't for
lack of inspiration.
The provided ID badge was both blessing and curse. In bold letters it
read "YELLOWSTONE'. While it may have attracted more attention than
sought or desired, it did help meet some remarkable people and led to
the one idea that was to make this entire experience worth the
I am writing this forty one years later, nearly halfway into the
second century of National Parks we were trying to envision. Were any
ideas generated here that have made a difference? Difficult to say for
certain. Once scattered, which of the seeds germinated and took root?
Our National Parks are significantly different than they were in 1972.
Many of the troubling problems of that year have been dealt with. New
technologies have opened new opportunities. Projected rates of demand
and visitor numbers have not grown as rapidly as frightening straight
line projections foretold then.
What of the man from Philadelphia and 'His People'? Do we have
greater right of access for all of America's people? Unfortunately, I
see no improvement or movement in that direction. Is there an
answer? I'm optimistic. What about sponsored tours for less privileged
young people? That's doable. What finer contribution to their education.
Things like that could happen. Why does it take so long? I wonder if the
man from Philadelphia is still living.
Had I been allowed to select but one idea here at Yosemite to take
back to Yellowstone it would, without a doubt, be 'The Yellowstone
Institute'. The Yosemite Institute hosted a reception on an outdoor
patio. That Institute's Director told me how the Park and surrounding
communities were interfacing for education. Primary grades through
junior colleges were cooperating with Yosemite and it's staff to offer
special learning opportunities.
Why not a Yellowstone Institute? Yellowstone is remote and has
seasonal difficulties but it is world famous and has visitors who want
to learn. A Yellowstone Institute should be a natural that would take
off immediately. Not so! Today the Yellowstone Institute has blossomed
beyond the wildest dreams we had back then, but the road was long and
rocky. But that's another story.
Yellowstone Park was born seventeen million years ago when an
asteroid may have struck earth near what is now the Oregon – Idaho
border. The distance between Jordan Valley, Oregon and Yellowstone
National Park marks progress of the North American Plate, our continent,
in it's movement west during that seventeen million years.
The Yellowstone Institute was born in 1972 during a conversation on
an outdoor balcony where the air was cooled by mists wafted down from a
towering Yosemite Falls. What the Yellowstone Institute is today marks
its progress from a humble seed sown that day in 1972 in Yosemite
A volcanic plume or hot spot deep under Yellowstone is the wound in
the earth possibly caused by the asteroid impact so long ago. That
wound, now beneath Yellowstone, created a huge volcanic caldera that was
the mother of all that Yellowstone is. The caldera crater, in time,
evolved into a bowl filled with wonder. Geysers, then creeks and rivers
emerged followed by plants and woodlands providing habitat for a rich
variety of life large and small. Each life form found its unique niche
of dependent interrelationship with the other. Late to the scene was a
history of human visitors. Though at first exploiters, humans' greatest
contribution to the scene was protection. Yellowstone, with its unique
geology and vast area protected in it's natural state, was quickly
recognized as an ideal laboratory for scientific research and learning.
Research projects of all kinds are ongoing here year round. Well
designed visitor center, campfire programs and naturalist walks are
popular with the Park's casual visitors but are, of necessity,
superficial. As it is a natural laboratory, it was a natural classroom,
a classroom crying for some kind of structured access for in depth
learning about the limitless wonders of the place.
Approaching with a warm smile and right hand extended, tall and lean,
the man looked 50ish. Nattily dress for the event, he was wearing a
light colored cotton summer jacket and trousers. Thought it was early
April, Yosemite, boxed in with high walls, can be warm and humid in late
afternoon. Balancing a napkin and drink in his left hand as we shook
hands he said, "I noticed your name tag. What's going on in
"Well, you can still find enough snow for a good snowball fight and
the bison are showing off their new calves.”
We were guests at the reception on an outdoor natural stone patio
with an awesome view of the two stage Yosemite Falls. Attendees were
members of a "think tank” event titled National Parks for the
Future celebrating the 1972 centennial of the National Parks idea
and establishment of Yellowstone. Now close enough to read, his name tag
indicated that he was Executive Director of The Yosemite Institute
(Don Rees, pictured at right).
"Please tell me about the Yosemite Institute,” I said.
His spontaneous enthusiastic response indicated that I had provided
precisely the opening he sought. "We're obviously an organization for
learning, learning about this remarkable place, Yosemite, and all of its
natural and historic values. The disciplines we teach range widely,
including all of the natural sciences, history of discovery and
establishment of the Park, including the John Muir story. We even
explore the relationship of the Park with communities in the surrounding
"Are all of your classes taught here within the Park?” I asked.
"Not at all,” the Director responded pleasantly. "The greatest part
of our operation is our outreach program. Our instructors regularly
visit schools, kindergarten up through junior college, with specialized
educational programs in the fields we cover.”
"Sounds like a great program, but an expensive one. How are you
"Tuitions from participants including those with scholarships carry
the 'in Park' courses. We wouldn't have an outreach program in the
schools without strong support from the local business community.
Corporations and businesses, even from the Bay Area are significant
contributors to our school program. "
Wheels were turning in my head as I asked the Director "Do you think
this idea would work in Yellowstone?”
After a thoughtful pause, he said "I don't know. We're heavily
dependent on nearby surrounding populations and our revenue from the
school involvement. Yellowstone is remote from a large population base
and has a short season. We function year round. I just don't know.”
"On the other hand, Yellowstone,” I said, "has a world famous name
and a high volume of visitors, many of whom should be interested in
in-depth learning. I wonder if a Yellowstone Institute could be feasible
supported only by in Park courses?”
"That's an interesting idea,” said the Director as we parted.
The Yellowstone Institute - Beginnings
Yellowstone National Park, in 1972, was a frantically busy place.
Superintendent Jack Anderson and his staff were pressed to work on
overload. Visitor numbers in National Parks were at an all time high and
showed no sign of abating. Demands for services and facilities seriously
stressed availability and staff time. Add to this the fact that
Yellowstone staff and concessioners must be prepared to receive
delegates from the world over. Yellowstone, the world's first National
Park, will host a global conference celebrating one hundred years of the
National Park idea.
Superintendent Jack Anderson and his Chief Biologist, Glen Cole, were
deeply embroiled in a highly controversial change in the Park's bear
management program. It had evolved into a hot national issue.
Freshly back from Yosemite and the National Parks for the
Future symposium and full of excitement about the possibility of a
Yellowstone Institute, I naively thought this would be a good
time to present the idea. Neither Superintendent Anderson nor his Chief
Naturalist, Bill Dunmire, given the existing environment, had time or
interest for considering another new program.
The idea of a Yellowstone Institute would wait for a better day.
Superintendent Anderson was always cordial and courteous each time,
in the following two years, that I presented the topic of an Institute,
but was not inclined to pursue the topic further.
It was 1975 when Superintendent Anderson retired, having capably and
professionally handled some very difficult issues in Yellowstone during
his tenure. He and his wife, Dusty, deservedly retired to Ashland,
Since 1971 I had been a Board member of the Yellowstone Library
and Museum Association (YLMA), a long time predecessor to the
present organization, The Yellowstone Association. The only
members of YLMA were people on the Board. There was no paid national
membership as there is now. The new Superintendent, John Townsley (at
right), stated, as had Superintendent Anderson, that the YLMA Board was
important as his only lay advisory board.
John Townsley was a big man, about six foot, four inches tall with a
heavy build. He could be intimidating and to many Park Staff he was. It
was important to John to be fully in control of everything in his
purview. Not popular with some staff, he was determined to break up
homesteading. To many National Park professionals Yellowstone was
the ultimate assignment. They would decline promotions or transfers to
stay in Yellowstone. John was determined to see homesteaders
achieve their full potential wherever they may be.
Each Yellowstone Superintendent, it seems, had a dominate, thorny and
difficult issue with which to deal. For John McLaughlin, preceding
Anderson, it was overwhelming elk populations. Mutual of Omaha's Wild
Kingdom TV show gave him ulcers. Jack Anderson had the tough issue
of bear management. Bob Barbee, following John Townsley, had the 1988
Yellowstone fires. John Townsley's largest difficult issue was
concessioners. Because concessioners owned their own improvements, Park
Service had little or no control over quality of services offered.
Concessioners could just say, "Buy us out!” Eventually, Townsley
convinced Congress to do just that, enabling Park Service to select the
bets concession operators.
Approaching Townsley several times about the Yellowstone
Institute idea, he always refused to discuss the issue. That was
Suddenly and unexpectedly, one day in 1976, I received a call in my
office from Al Mebane (at right), the Chief Naturalist. Mebane said that
Townsley had instructed him to bring the YLMA Manager, Gerri Hape, to my
home in St. Anthony, Idaho to see what this Institute business
was all about. By that time I had elected YLMA Board Chair and had the
Boards support to pursue the issue.
When Al and Gerri arrived at my house I had invited a neighbor, Dr.
Glen Holm, to sit in on the discussion. Glen was a former Dean at the
University of Oklahoma and had spent many years with the State
Department both in Columbia and in India. He had a valuable academic
perspective. We began, understanding that an institute, in Yellowstone,
would have to be supported by in Park courses. Remoteness from
population centers and long, severe winters made an outreach program,
which was the strength of the Yosemite Institute improbable. We
agreed that courses offered should be about the sciences, history,
current use and future of Yellowstone. There should be a strong
orientation to teachers and, in time, we would plan to offer credit for
Yellowstone's fame should attract the nation's finest instructors for
the fields offered and we should seek them out. We deferred the problem
of where and how to house the instructors. Summer brings a severe
housing problem all over the Park to both Park Staff and
We all agreed that the Institute should be not for
profit and that if any profits were ever realized they should go to
scholarships and tuition reductions.
Finally, there was discussion of the director. It was my feeling that
the first director, for a period not to exceed three years, should be a
person strong in organization and promotional skills. After that period
the director should be more oriented to academics.
Al and Gerri carried the report back to Superintendent Townsley. He
approved start up explorations provided the YLMA was willing to come up
with the start up financing. He offered no direct Park Service support
other than assistance from the Chief Naturalist.
Now the heavy lifting fell to Chief Naturalist, Al Mebane. I secured
YLMA Board approval and Al began the search for a Director.
Hugh Crandall, an ex navy pilot, had authored several colorful
booklets about specific National Parks titled, "The Story Behind the
Scenery.” Colorful photos, brief, but interesting, text and a reasonable
price made the booklets popular at park visitor centers. He had done a
good job marketing the booklets.
Hugh became The Yellowstone Institute's first Director. He had
no office, no staff, no equipment or detailed budget, only an
Idea! An apartment he had managed to secure above the Post Office
at Mammoth for him and his wife became Institute
Volumes of mail went out and the first courses offered (six or eight
as I remember) were determined by which instructors Hugh could interest
in taking a gamble. Two of the activity offerings were Fly
Fishing and Horse Packing. Attendance was meager but Hugh
pressed on with determination. Because we had no housing to offer,
instructors without a camper of their own had to be tent campers,
and some were. We struggled.
A very large chunk of YLMA's budget was being spent on start up
expenses for the Yellowstone Institute. After the second year
with some, but minimal, growth it seemed time to test the Board's
commitment. Playing Devil's Advocate and standing where they
could not see fingers crossed behind my back, I suggested that the
amount of money we were spending could be used to reach many more
visitors through traditional interpretive programs thatn through the
Institute. "It may be,” I said, "that the Institute was
not a good idea or was a good idea whose time had not yet come.”
The Board responded emphatically, "No, we're going to stay the course
and do whatever it takes.”
It may be that crossed fingers do work.
Some Institute courses were in the field but some required a
classroom, and there were rainy days. We had no classrooms but Al Mebane
found, here and there, a trailer house that was temporarily unoccupied.
Crowded conditions in the Park were a problem for course attendees. If
they were lucky enough to secure a campsite at all, some would return to
their camp after classes to find their gear thrown aside and someone
else in the campsite.
We needed a PLACE! The nearest thing the Institute had to an
official PLACE was Hugh's apartment over the Post Office. His wife must
have been an awfully good sport.
Lamar Valley, in the Northern part of Yellowstone, is, to me, one of
the most beautiful, fascinating areas in the Park. An early trapper,
Osborne Russell, called the Larmar "Secluded Valley” and in 1835
wrote of it in his journal: "I almost wished I could spend the
remainder of my days in a place like this where happiness and
contentment seemed to reign in wild romantic splendor surrounded by
majestic battlements which seemed to support the heavens ad shut out all
Bison were corralled and raised much like cattle in Lamar Valley from
1907 until 1952. Hay, raised in flat lands along the Lamar River, was
fed to the animals. The place came to be known as the Buffalo
Several log buildings at the site had various uses after cessation of
bison ranching in 1952. Park Rangers, for example, sometimes had
trained workshops or retreats there. The Buffalo Ranch looked, to
me, like the perfect place for a headquarters for the new Yellowstone
Superintendent Townsley told me he would not even discuss the idea.
"Do not even mention that matter to me!”
He had taken the same stance about the idea of an institute but
finally yielded, so I persisted. Each time the topic was suggested, I
was immediately cut off. Now, with hindsight, it is clear I was poking,
with a stick, at a hornet's nest because other important entities also
coveted the Buffalo Ranch. The case, apparently, was closed.
Board members of YLMA traditionally got together for some pleasant
social time the evening before the official Board meeting. This
particular evening we were gathered in one of the larger rooms of the
Flamingo Motel in Gardner, Montana. (Can you believe a Flamingo
Motel on the North edge of Yellowstone Park? It was later named
"Western” with appropriate change of décor.) Conversation was light
hearted and happy when Superintendent Townsley, who always met with us,
turned to me and said, "What's on the agenda for tomorrow, Monte?”
"Well, John,” I said, "I've learned that there is a campground loop
at the new Grant Village that is not likely to be developed even
though water and sewer improvements are already in place. I planned to
float the idea of that as a place for the Yellowstone
John's face was deeply flushed as he spoke to me sternly, "May I
please see you outside?”
Refreshments still in hand, we stepped out to the parking area away
from the room.
Standing so close my head tilted back to look into the tall man's
still red face, he poked a finger into my chest. "If you have any idea
of trying to embarrass The National Park Service – or ME about the
million dollars of unused improvements at Grant Village I will
absolutely not tolerate it. This matter is permanently closed. Do you
Board meetings were held in the Administration Building's
conference room. Next morning, as usual, I arrived about twenty minutes
early. There, leaning back in my chair, at head of the table, sat
Yellowstone Park Superintendent John Townsley!
"Just sit down, Monte, and listen to me,” he said.
"I'm going to give you the Buffalo Ranch for one
year! That's all I'm committing is one
"That's all we need, John!”
"Further,” he said, "I have discretionary Superintendent's funds. I'm
giving you $10,000 to get the place in shape for the Yellowstone
Institute Headquarters. Now, the Board should be arriving in a few
minutes. Let's get a cup of coffee then get on with the meeting.”
Still a bit aghast, I finally spoke, "I'd like to call on you to make
the announcement to the Board, John.”
He made the announcement to an amazed Board.
Near the end of year three of the new Institute growth was
modest but steady, though it was still far from being self
Beginning his three year appointment as start-up Director, Hugh
Crandall clearly understood that the position was for only three years
after which we planned to hire a Director who had a strong academic
background. Hugh had said that worked for him because he had no plans to
be here more than three years. It was surprising, therefore, that at
this time he was presenting a plan under which he should receive a
percentage of tuition above his base salary. The plan didn't go far and
we proceeded to search for an academic person. In retrospect, it may
have been too early to shift gears but others felt the time was right.
So the search began led by Chief Naturalist, Al Mebane, supported by a
committee from the Board.
From several very well qualified applicants a man from Wyoming was
selected and accepted the position. He had an impressive resume
including important research projects and had grad students who could
aid with operations at the new Buffalo Ranch Headquarters.
Classroom courses were flowing smoothly now that there were reliable
facilities at the Buffalo Ranch. Housing, however, was a very
serious problem. Good news came from Al Mebane who announced that a
number of old cabins, removed from Fishing Bridge, that were scheduled
for demolition, had been relocated to the Yellowstone Institute
at Buffalo Ranch for student housing. No one asked for details
regarding the transaction. I was saddened, a few years later, to hear
disparaging comment about the old cabins that had seemed so precious
when they arrived.
Some of the Fishing Village cabins (above) were relocated to Lamar Buffalo Ranch (below)
Progress of the Institute seemed now to have come into slack
water. Growth, measured by students and number of courses offered,
stagnated. The new Director was, apparently, so involved in important
research projects that Directors functions and operations were largely
in the hands of students and volunteers. We couldn't afford, at this
critical stage, to lose traction. I asked whichever Board members could,
come to meet over lunch at Roosevelt Lodge. Current state of of
operations was reviewed then Board members studied resumes of all
applicants to previous considerations for Director. One person, in
particular, had been seriously considered before. The group agreed to
contact Rick Reese to find out if he might still be available to fill
the position of Director. He was. Rich, as new Institute Director, hit
the ground running. He had enthusiasm needed for development and skills
for academic management.
The Yellowstone Institute was now airborne and this is where
my part of the story ends!
Because of hard work by many skilled, ambitious, good people the
Yellowstone Institute has flourished. Every Director, Board
Member, Instructor and Student has contributed something of value to the
beautiful thing that is now The Yellowstone Institute. That part
of the story must be told by others.
Al Mebane's Story, 1972 - 1982
I transferred to Yellowstone in December of that year as the Chief
Park Naturalist (that's me pictured at right). In that position,
I was automatically the Executive Secretary of the Yellowstone Library
and Museum Association (YLMA); a practice that ended in the '80s, I
think. The Board was made up of a splendid group of private individuals
such as Monte who were dedicated to the Park and to supporting its
interpretive programs. They were also a good sounding board for the
From time to time I made proposals for publications and experimental
projects for which there were no governmental funds available, such as
roadside radio transmitters, underwater filming of trout at Fishing
Bridge, etc. I always looked forward to the Board meetings which
included "Quests" in search of wildlife a day or two before. My wife and
I treasured the friendships which resulted.
Monte related how he learned firsthand about the Yosemite Institute
but was ignored by Yellowstone's Superintendent Anderson, and later,
Townsley when he suggested something similar in Yellowstone. I'm sure
Monte told me about it soon after we met but I was consumed with major
interpretive plans and projects from the outset. His suggestion was
mentally filed away.
My memory is fuzzy about the sequence of events. I do remember being
reminded of the Yellowstone Institute idea when I was confronted by a
ranger's wife in my office. She and her husband had recently moved from
Yosemite to Yellowstone and were stationed at Tower Junction. She
demanded to know why we didn't have something similar to the Yosemite
Institute. I expressed my view that it would be untenable, given our
remote location, lack of facilities, plus that I didn't think visitors
should pay for interpretive programs in a national park. Nevertheless, I
promised to look into it. I did contact colleagues in Yosemite and Zion
who were very enthusiastic and promptly sent me details of their
Armed with new information and the Superintendent's unexpected
backing, Monte and I proposed it to the Board of YLMA. They were
immediately supportive, agreeing to underwrite a Yellowstone Institute
for a limited period of time.
I undertook two tasks: finding candidates for the Director, and
approaching one or more universities to join us in the venture. One
candidate for Director immediately made himself available, in the person
of Hugh Crandall (pictured at right), a chain-smoking park
enthusiast and writer whom I had met in Shenandoah National Park. He and
his wife Aggie were now living at Mammoth in an apartment they rented
above the Post Office. Hugh was quite persuasive in selling me on his
qualifications, and the Board hired him as the first Director.
I began sounding out university contacts, and got an immediate show
of interest from the Montana School of Mines. A geology instructor liked
the idea of teaching a series of his courses in the field, but I held
back from encouraging him since his school could offer no other subject
matter. Prior to my transfer to Yellowstone, I spent four years immersed
in the brand-new environmental education movement for the National Park
Service, promoting the idea of using the parks as outdoor classrooms and
organizing teacher workshops. Although geology is basic to understanding
Yellowstone, and is my personal field, I wanted to find a university
interested in providing interdisciplinary classes in the park. When I
told him I wanted courses in more subjects than just geology, appealing
to a broad spectrum of the public, he lost interest.
When I contacted Bill Carlson, president of the University of
Wyoming, he became very enthused and invited us to visit. Hugh Crandall
and I drove to Laramie and were warmly received. [If he noticed that I
reeked of Hugh's cigarette smoke, he didn't mention it.] Thus began a
new and important relationship with the University with several courses
being taught in Yellowstone by UW faculty.
The first indoor classroom that the Institute used in Yellowstone was
in the Mammoth Elementary School, courtesy of its principal, John
Whitman. I don't remember the subject or the size of the first class,
but it was a start, a toehold. I had eyed the larger unused space at the
Buffalo Ranch in Lamar Valley, but received major pushback from the
Ranger Division which felt it was their domain, so hands off!
Another thought was to utilize part of Grant Village for the
Yellowstone Institute. It was partly finished, stalled in
mid-development when the funds ran out. I believe much of the campground
had been completed, along with underground utilities, but none of the
other visitor facilities had been built. Like Monte, I recall Townsley's
angry reaction to the suggestion that the Institute make use of it. I
was probably the one who brought it up during a staff meeting and was
instantly shot down. Townsley was incensed by the idea of "millions of
dollars of utilities in the ground” being wasted for something trivial
(or words to that effect) instead of seeing the original plan for
development through. Somehow, he managed to get construction priorities
changed up the chain of command so that Grant Village project was
quickly funded and completed.
We prepared to struggle through another season operating out of the
Mammoth School. Then the Superintendent made the welcome decision to
overrule any claim by the Ranger staff for their exclusive use of the
Buffalo Ranch, and assigned the unused main building to the Institute.
We now had a real base of operations! Let me add that the Ranger staff
quickly welcomed the Institute and fully supported the new
Students still had no housing, however. They had to either camp or
stay in Canyon or Mammoth which limited the ability of many prospects to
attend. Again, Townsley came to the rescue. He, having final authority,
could provide solutions beyond anything I could manage. Because the old
Fishing Bridge development was being demolished, he decided that the
Park Service would salvage several of the old tourist cabins and move
them over Dunraven Pass to Lamar. He charged Bill Hape of the
Maintenance Division with the task of making it happen. Bill was a man
who might not be able to move mountains, but could go over them. The
cabins were anything but luxurious, but represented a huge
When Hugh Crandell's 3-year contract drew to a close, he fully
expected it to be renewed. However, the Board and I were somewhat
disenchanted with his management by that time and they decided to
replace him with the highly capable Rick Reese from Helena, Montana
(pictured at top right). Rick was still the Institute's
Director when I transferred from Yellowstone in 1982.
I will always regard my role in the beginning
of the Yellowstone Institute to be one of the major achievements of my
career in the National Park Service.
Additional History Links
"National Parks for the Future" Symposium held at Yosemite National Park, April 13-15, 1972 (page 24 - 30, excerpt at right)
Report from the "National Parks for the Future" project, 1972
"An interesting and complex after-effect of the removal of the cabins from Fishing Bridge" (page 124)
"Effective December 18, 1985, YLMA became known officially as the Yellowstone Association" (page 6)
This article originally appeared on Plein Air in the Parks, written by Kara Hidalgo