Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Preserving the Park

As one of the largest national parks in the contiguous 48 states, Yellowstone is a study of nature on a grand scale.

Since its founding as the first national park in 1872, Yellowstone has been a pioneer post, a testing ground for new concepts and a data center for research into the inexact science of preserving wildlands for public use. Initially, Congress did not even appropriate funds to mark the boundaries. Superintendent Nathaniel P. Langford and several successors worked, single-handedly and without salary, to protect the vast wilderness and its visitors from poachers, vandals, raiders, thieves and troublesome mountain ramblers, but the task proved overwhelming.

In 1886, the U.S. Army accepted command of the park and gradually established law and order. When the National Park Service was established in 1916, with a corps of professional rangers, Yellowstone faced a new problem: 35,800 visitors arrived that year, many of them in motorized vehicles.

Creating a Balance

Finding a workable balance between preserving a unique ecosystem and accommodating its visitors is, at best, a trial and error process. NPS compromises are guided by human definitions. What is wildness? What is protective intervention? What is appropriate public use?

During the park's early history, bears were chained to trees so Yellowstone's visitors could see them up close. Laundries used to be located near the geysers and hot pools. At one time, visitors tried injecting soaps to set off geyser eruptions. Elk were caged, predators were hunted and roads were built. The balance had tipped, all in good faith, toward a public amusement park.

Gradually, the NPS moved toward minimal interference with the park's natural state. The park recognized that Yellowstone, as large as it is, is not a self-contained ecosystem. It is dynamically related to an area far beyond its boundaries. Three massive river systems, the Snake, the Yellowstone and the Missouri, originate in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The underground structure that sustains the complex hydrothermal features extends beyond park borders. Animals also migrate through adjacent public and private lands in search of food and water.

Programs were initiated to better protect the park, its wildlife and its resources. Park programs, exhibits and literature educated visitors about the park's fragile ecosystem. Boardwalks help to preserve the delicate hydrothermal areas and wildlife management programs protect bears, trout and trumpeter swans.

The process of maintaining the balance of nature, however, is an ongoing one. Park officials, scientists and others continue to study Yellowstone for clues that will help them preserve what may be one of the last wildland ecosystems remaining in the world's Temperate Zone.

Fire—A Natural Process

In 1988, Yellowstone National Park experienced the greatest ecological event in the history of national parks. With raw, unbridled power, several fires raged in and around the park, affecting an area of 793,880 acres in the park. The extent of the 1988 fires focused worldwide attention on America's favorite park.

By the time you visit, the park will be in varying stages of an important metamorphosis. Most biologists and naturalists believe that the great fire was a natural and inevitable process, part of the grand design to recycle nutrients back into the earth.

Fires broke out in the early 1700s and the mid-1800s, and evidence shows that this has happened 300 times in the last 10,000 years. There are programs and publications about the fires at the visitor centers. The exhibit, "Yellowstone and Fire," can be viewed at Grant Village Visitor Center. Stop by—it's an amazing story.

Conservation in Yellowstone

In 1990 Yellowstone National Park instituted a park-wide recycling program for aluminum cans, glass and some paper products. Plastic beverage containers were added to that list in 2004. Visitors are encouraged to deposit recyclable materials in marked receptacles located in most developed areas and campgrounds.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts® continues to recycle all feasible materials from its operations, including three tons of aluminum, 40 tons of paper, 166 tons of cardboard and 84 tons of glass. Additionally, over 116 tons of organic waste was diverted from the landfill and recycled into compost, for application in the region. However, recycling is only part of the solution to protecting Yellowstone's ecosystem. Xanterra also finds new ways every year to cut back on the amount of electric and petroleum energy consumed in the park. Replacing more than 20,000 standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent fixtures at park lodges, restaurants and campgrounds has saved huge amounts of electricity and reducing Yellowstone's contribution to carbon dioxide emissions at power plants. Xanterra also purchases hybrid electric and fully electric fleet vehicles. Look for our Toyota Prius cars and electric "golf carts" traveling around Yellowstone.

Xanterra is also minimizing the environmental impact of Yellowstone construction projects by incorporating green building concepts into many construction projects around Yellowstone. In 2004, the company received the prestigious LEED certification from the US Green Building Council for two of its new employee houses.

Xanterra's ISO 14001 certified Environmental Management System makes environmentally friendly practices standard at Yellowstone hotels, restaurants, gift shops and campgrounds. In addition to the "What You Can Do" suggestions on the following pages, you can help protect Yellowstone's fragile environment by doing your part while you're in the park. Please place recyclable materials near the wastebaskets in your room or in receptacles around the park. Also, before you leave your room, please turn down the heat, turn off the lights, make sure all water faucets are shut off and hang up your towels if you want to reuse them. Every small effort helps.

What You Can Do

You can do more than you suspect to help preserve and protect America's first national park. One of the most important things is also one of the most basic: Treat the park—its forests, wildlife, hydrothermal and geologic features—with respect. Whether you visit Yellowstone for a day or for a week, using the park responsibly will go a long way toward ensuring its survival.

• Don't feed the animals. Minor though it may seem, simply not feeding the animals greatly protects their welfare. When wild animals cease to find their own food, they are no longer a part of the balance of nature. They may become unable to forage for themselves, a potentially fatal situation when the free handouts end at the close of the summer season. Animals also lose their fear of cars and humans, and are more likely to be injured or killed as they linger near roadsides. Also, feeding any animal—including birds—is illegal.

• Take care of Yellowstone's thermal features. Don't deface, remove or throw objects into thermal features or you will destroy features that have taken a millennia to form. Help preserve these wonders for future generations to enjoy. 

Stay on trails and boardwalks. There are over 1,100 miles (1,770 km) of trails and many boardwalks, and they go almost anywhere an adventurer would want to travel. Taking shortcuts from the trail increases erosion, and it may take a generation for fragile vegetation to recover. For your own safety, stay on boardwalks in thermal areas and check at a visitor center for current trail conditions/closures.

• Pack out your trash and recycle. Pack a small litter sack with you when you hike, and pack out more litter than you bring in. No one expects you to shoulder the burden of keeping the park clean, but there is a real satisfaction in knowing that you left an area in better shape than you found it. Recycle aluminum cans and glass bottles in receptacles located throughout the park. Inquire at park hotels for more information.

• Get involved. Organizations such as the Yellowstone Association and the Yellowstone Park Foundation are involved in park preservation and educational programs. Check at a visitor center for details about contacting these organizations, or see "Who's Who at the Park" on pages 15—17. On a larger scale, corporate assistance is welcome; in 1997, Olympic Stain donated the stain for the refinishing of Old Faithful Inn. Programs such as Take Pride in America, coordinate volunteer programs, such as trail maintenance, that improve hiking trails where erosion and overuse have taken a toll, and vegetative maintenance, which entails the removal of exotic plants that encroach on native species. Contact the park's VIP (Volunteers in Parks) coordinator at Park Headquarters for more information. 

Each year Yellowstone National Park welcomes a number of full-time volunteers from the Student Conservation Association (SCA), a national non-profit organization. These volunteers, who may be high school or college students or other adults, assist with a range of vital activities from trail maintenance or bear management to backcountry patrol or assisting park visitors. In return, the volunteers receive valuable training and experience, have most expenses paid, and are able to live and work in one of America's premier national parks. In addition to Yellowstone, SCA places volunteers at hundreds of other national and state parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and other natural and historical sites nationwide.

The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) is a summer employment program for young men and women ages 15 through 18. Through work projects done in the park, this program provides enrollees with a better understanding of their environment and management of our natural resources. This residential program begins on June 16th and continues through August 11th. YCC is based out of Mammoth Hot Springs and gives participants opportunities to explore Yellowstone's wilderness. Crews will focus their efforts on projects dealing with rehabilitation of trails and backcountry areas, bridge reconstruction, and a wide variety of resource management, maintenance, and research projects. A wide spectrum of environmental education programs will be offered as part of this year's program, as well as an extensive recreation program.