First, the honor: To be among the precious few who can say they’ve guided the
fortunes of the world’s first national park, an incomparable convergence of wildlife, geothermal features and beauty treasured by millions worldwide. It’s like coaching the Celtics or managing the Yankees. The Sistine Chapel of parks.
And then, the bull’s eye on the chest of your forest green: A torrent of proverbial bullets coming from the left and from the right, from business leaders and conservation groups, from politicians and from tourists. No good deed left unpunished, no decision un-scrutinized.
On the surface, it seems like such a bucolic job. Sit in your third-floor office at Mammoth Hot Springs, warming a chair once occupied by the likes of Nathaniel Langford and Horace Albright, and cast a glance across the grass at your empire.
Elk. Bison. The occasional wolf or grizzly bear. And happy tourists.
Mention Bob Barbee and immediately the fires of 1988 come to mind. Think he wasn’t on the hot seat?
Mention Mike Finley and the topics are New World Mine, wolves and winter use. Think he didn’t want to monkey-wrench a few snowmobiles?
Fast forward to Dan Wenk and the issues, while all too familiar in some cases (bison, winter use), have been upgraded — to climate change, lack of funding and pressures from record visitation. The park hasn’t stooped to having a bake sale to keep the latrines clean, but we’re close.
The unique experiences and controversies faced by Barbee, Finley and Wenk are just one reason I’m so eager to hear them during their fireside chat during GYC’s 30th anniversary celebration Sept. 21 at the historic Union Pacific Dining Hall in West Yellowstone.
I want to hear Barbee talk about the 1988 fires and how, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the park’s demise were greatly exaggerated.
I want to be on that sled with Finley when he took the first wolves to the Rose Creek pen and on the podium with him when President Bill Clinton slammed the door on a mine proposal with the words “Yellowstone is more precious than gold.”
I want to hear Wenk talk about the importance of the lands surrounding Yellowstone to the integrity of the park, a concept brand new when GYC was formed in 1983.
Just having one would be a coup. Having all three, on the doorstep of the park they have worked so hard to protect, is an evening not to be missed.