2017 YSCC Fall Conference Recap

Yellowstone Studies Center Consortium (YSCC) Annual Fall Conference

We held our 5th annual Yellowstone Studies Center Consortium (YSCC) Fall Conference Oct. 18-20, 2017. Each year, our intent for the Conference is threefold:

  1. 1. To have Consortium Member professors and administrators envision, experience and evaluate the experiential teaching and learning opportunities in West Yellowstone and Yellowstone Park for themselves, their fellow faculty and their students.
  2. 2. To have them participate in presentations and discussions with other professionals on the many topics, disciplines and issues of interest in the West Yellowstone area and the Park.
  3. 3. To have them share their curriculums, ideas, viewpoints, stories, and experiences with one another and suggestions for improvements to our Yellowstone Studies Center (YSC) Use and Services Program.

Wednesday Night’s Welcome Dinner

On Wednesday night the 18th, the Three Bear Lodge, and its dedicated staff hosted our Welcome Dinner. Along with good food and conversation, we were thrilled to welcome professionals from Montana and China, Member professors and administrators from Montana and Indiana and, for the first time, administrators, faculty and a student from their partner universities in the United Kingdom and Norway:

John Conant, Indiana State University (ISU), Terre Haute
Chris McGrew, ISU
John Gibson, Indiana University Northwest, Gary
Elinor Balensuela, Edge Hill University, Lancashire, United Kingdom
Bill Johnson, Edge Hill University
Daniel Chen, Tour Director, China and U.S.
Colin Irvine, Carroll College, Helena, MT
Harald Walderhaug, University of Bergen (UiB), Bergen, Norway
Roymond Olsen, UiB
Torill Eidsvaag, UiB
Michael (and Debbie) Stickney, Director, Earthquake Studies Office, Montana Tech, Butte
Diane Hutton, Forester and Fire Management Officer, USFS, Wisdom, MT
Paul Diaz, USFS, Wisdom, MT

Thursday Morning’s Classroom and Field Presentations

The Yellowstone Fires of 1988 Revisited and the 2016 Maple Fire

The group met in the conference room at 8:00 AM where Clyde Seely reminisced about how they were told in a town meeting in September 1988 that the town of West Yellowstone was in imminent danger of the fire the next morning. Clyde told about asking the Fire Commander if he would like the Idaho Farmers to bring up sprinkler pipe to defend the town from the fires the next morning. He answered affirmatively and by 11:00 PM the calls came back in confirming the farmers would be there.

The group then boarded a van for a field trip to the Madison River almost a mile away from where two huge pumps were to be placed to pump the water. Even though Clyde was given permission to dig a small reservoir in the river so the pumps could get the water out, the ranger would not allow a backhoe to dig into the shallow river because it would leave pod marks on the bank. Out of desperation, he asked, “What do you want us to do, blast a hole in the river?” That would be okay, he was told and dynamite was used. Diesel pumps arrived and two 10” mainlines were set by farmers to carry the water to wet down the forest next to the town. Sixteen lines of pipe were carried into the forest by 150 volunteers and farmers. By 3:00 PM the water began to wet down the forest making it impervious to the fire.

At 11:00 PM several days later Clyde received a call from the Old Faithful from the Fire Management Officer and was asked if they could bring the pipe into Old Faithful by 8:00 AM the next morning to defend the power line and substation. If they lost the power to the fire, the Old Faithful area would have to be shut down for the winter. Eventually, the fire came boiling over the hillsides but jumped over the wet band that protected the power line.

In order to see a slide presentation showing all this activity, the group reloaded into the van and was taken back to the WYED Center for the presentation of the ’88 sprinkler procedure. This provided a segway into the 2016 Maple Fire presentation that also threatened West Yellowstone.

Diane Hutton, Fire Management Officer, and Paul Diaz took over the discussion and field trip from here. We did on-site visits to the areas as they explained about the changing Fire Management policy that had allowed fuel reduction by mechanized equipment for the 2016 fires that helped protect the town. This process would have eliminated the need for the sprinkler system if it could have happened in 1988. We had a picnic lunch and in one of the burned areas. We witnessed new Lodgepole Pine seedlings that were now about 1 inch tall, a graphic comparison of the new growth trees of the ’88 fires that are now about 25 ft. tall

Thursday Afternoon’s Field Presentation

The beautiful autumn day with temps in the 50s was ideal for Mike Stickney’s multi-stop field discussion on the geologic, historic and human interest points of West Yellowstone’s August 17, 1959 earthquake. Mike’s vast knowledge of the land gave everyone great insight into the cause and effect of this powerful geologic event. Stops at Red Canyon scarp, building and road destruction along Hebgen Lake, the remarkable 21 foot (6.4m) Cabin Creek fault line, the 50 million cubic yard (38 million cubic meter) slide area itself, the resulting formation of Quake Lake and walk to Memorial Boulder, memorializing the 28 lives lost in the quake, underscored the devastating impact of this modern era 7.3-7.5 magnitude earthquake.

Friday’s Park Tour of the Greatest Classroom on Earth

The high point of the Conference is always our tour of the Park. The tour offers Conference attendees coming to Yellowstone for the first time the opportunity to realize the superb and varied learning opportunities for them and their classes in the Greatest Classroom on Earth. Travel time stops and hikes offer our Park guide and alumni professors and administrators the opportunity to share their vast Park knowledge, experiences and memories with the first-timers.

It was a fair weather start to the day as we headed north to Mammoth and the Lamar Valley. Our expert guide, Dave Akers, quickly revealed many historic, early Park explorer and wildlife facts and discussed the millions of years old geologic history of the rock leading us to Firehole Falls. Then it was onto Gibbon Falls and Norris Geyser Basin.

Dave mentioned that Norris was the hottest geyser basin in the Park. As we walked into the Porcelain Basin area, he explained that the waters in Norris are acidic rather than alkaline. The difference in ph allows for a different class of bacterial thermophiles to live, creating different color patterns in and around the waters. We moved onto Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the world, where Dave talked about its erratic and lengthy timetable between major eruptions.
(Possible inclusion of photos of Norris Geyser Basin, green thermophiles in water, Dave talking at Steamboat Geyser)

On our way to Mammoth, we were stopped by the Park’s never ending road construction. Wasted time? No way! Elinor decided to play “Stump the Chump” with Dave on Yellowstone place names. Amazingly, Dave rattled off a description or fact about every place Elinor named from A (Avalanche Peak) to Y (Yellowstone). (I don’t recall a Z place name like Zygomatic Arch, in Biscuit Basin, coming up in the fast-paced game.) Needless to say, Elinor did not “stump the chump!” Kudos to Dave, one of the best in the business of providing knowledge, understanding, memories, and passion of and for the Park!!

The cold, wind and gray skies moved in as we wound our way up Upper Terrace Drive, but we had an amazing view of Mammoth village (Old Fort Yellowstone) and mountain peaks from the Gallatin Range. Mammoth’s resident elk herd was present, too. (Finally, some wildlife to see!)
(Possible inclusion of photos from Upper Terrace Drive, of Mammoth village and elk)

A chilly rain hit us at Tower Fall. But, the piece de resistance, the prize everyone was waiting for, was revealed there…buffalo stew and cornbread! That hit the spot- delicious and hot!! The wet walk to see and hear the plunging roar of the 132 ft. (40 m) Tower Fall was anticlimactic after the stew!!!
(Possible inclusion of photos of our lunch stop and Tower Fall)

As we moved through the vastness of the Lamar Valley, along the Lamar River, we finally got to see Yellowstone’s iconic large herds of buffalo. Dave talked about the other animals roaming the Valley- pronghorn antelope, grizzly bears, the well-known wolf packs- but a wily coyote hunting for his next meal was the only other wildlife we spotted.
(Possible inclusion of photo of buffalo herd)

Stops at Undine Falls and Liberty Cap ‘capped off’ our return trip. But before we reached West, thank goodness, we saw snow. At the beginning of the day, a Three Bear Lodge employee promised Bill he would see snow by 3:00 pm, at the peril of Bill getting her fired if he didn’t see it. Only about 20 minutes off of her prediction time, this employee’s supreme command of Mother Nature saved her from Bill’s wrath and her job.

To Sum It All Up

Wow! Although we shortened the originally planned Conference by a day, we trust it was still an enlightening experience for everyone. Our special thanks go out to John C., who continues to be YSCC’s greatest supporter and one of Yellowstone’s greatest advocates for its educational potential, no matter the discipline one teaches or studies. He brought Chris and John, his ISU and IUN enforcers successors, Daniel, his tour director for his trips to China and the dynamic duo from Edge Hill. We appreciate Elinor and Bill making the long trip over the pond and filling our field trips with enthusiasm and laughter. Bill thanked us by saying, “I had an informative and rewarding experience. I can see how this type of opportunity will really play to our student needs.”

Colin and his faculty from Carroll College remain the most prolific users of the YSC. We’re so glad he coordinated UiB’s special visit to Carroll and the Conference. It was a unique and proud time for us to have Harald, Roymond and Torill share their time, knowledge and experiences with us. Tusen takk!

Finally, our closing applause goes to Clyde, Mike, Diane, and Paul for sharing the knowledge, commitment and passion for their vocations and life-changing experiences.