by Joe Putzer, ’07
The sun rises in Yellowstone National Park, casting its rays over snow-bent lodgepole pines encircling geothermal pockets of mist in an otherwise uninterrupted, snow-blanketed landscape. It’s an exhibition that can only be described as nature’s art gallery.
Heat-loving bacteria – thermophiles – inhabit the geothermal pockets of Yellowstone and create the incredible steaming colors of the Fountain Paint Pot nature trail and other geothermal features throughout the park.
It’s here that SCA intern Julia Preston-Fulton begins her day, building a fire in the Fishing Bridge warming hut, a log cabin visitor center no larger than a two-car garage. One of six huts in the park nestled, snow covered, among the wolves and the river otters, the Fishing Bridge warming hut receives inquisitive visitors traveling by snowshoe, cross-country ski, snowmobile, and even snow coach; Yellowstone’s winterized form of mass transit. Preston-Fulton functions as a “gallery guide” for park visitors, describing the thermophiles and many other remarkable aspects of Yellowstone.
Preston-Fulton’s conversations with Yellowstone’s brave winter visitors provide excitement for her as well as the visitors as she reveals her knowledge of the park. Providing a “different point of view” is Preston-Fulton’s specialty. She not only discusses the features and history of the park, but she also presents the “bigger picture” of Yellowstone. “I give a different point of view [to visitors] so that it increases their awareness of the importance of the park and how special the things are that they are seeing, feeling, and smelling.”
Since its preservation as a National Park in 1872, Yellowstone’s importance not only as a place of natural enjoyment for park visitors, but also as a 2.2 million acre microcosm of our natural world has become increasingly apparent. The re-introduction of wolves in 1995 after they had been extirpated in the 1930s serves as an educational tool for the significance of the web of life. The fires that ravaged the park in 1988 exemplify the role of fire as an essential natural force and led to changes in the way land managers administer forest plans. The thermophiles help biologists truly understand the structure of evolution and their discovery leads the way to greater microbiological research and to a campaign to reclassify the biological kingdoms of life.
Erika Reinicke, another SCA intern who communicates with visitors in the warming hut, truly enjoys explaining Yellowstone’s microcosmic nature to park visitors. “One of the most rewarding parts…is to answer a question that helps a person understand the reality of what they just saw” said Reinicke. “Yellowstone is so unique…especially in winter. Helping people understand and to see more is a great feeling.”
Not only does Reinicke delve into the more detailed aspects of the natural science and history of the park, but she also educates visitors on “elementary” conservation, such as discouraging park visitors from feeding animals or littering soda in the snow. Such actions, as Reinicke explains, attracts ravens and other animals that then become habituated to humans, thus disrupting animals natural behavior. Reinicke feels that these actions are entirely without malice but spring from a lack of knowledge. “By reaching one or two people every day who are not environmentally conscious, it helps to preserve and protect natural resources important to us all,” Reinicke explains.
As the sun sets over Lake Butte, Reinicke often skis there, where she can look over thirty miles of water to the “largest expanse of wilderness in the lower forty-eight.” As her skis glide over the blanket of snow, the natural gallery unfolds before her. Reinicke says the frozen palette is “breathtaking” and the beauty is a really “humbling” experience. “Even the coldest, windiest, snow-swept day has extreme beauty.”
Bottom photo: Erika and her new skis; the Grand Tetons in the background.
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