Happy Birthday to the National Park Service!
Glacier National Park
Ranger Brian pulled a grizzly claw out of his jacket pocket and explained that the bears were making a slow comeback, in part because the females only have cubs once every three years. The small crowd, sitting on hard benches in the Discovery Cabin, listened attentively. The perimeter of the rustic room was lined with shelves filled with animal pelts, skulls, teeth—the props Brian used as he described the diverse animal population in Glacier National Park. A couple of kids in the audience jumped up when he asked for volunteers, eager to assist in his demonstration of the difference between antlers and horns.
There are lots of ways to explore Glacier but on this cool, rainy June day Dave and I opted to stay close to the lodge. Ours was going to be a very short visit after a very long trip—a late night flight into Idaho Falls two days earlier and then a 400-mile drive through Montana with stops along the way to look at construction projects. It was a mini-vacation at the end of our work week—the opportunity we had been looking for to get back to a favorite national park.
We decided the best way to make the most of our one full day in the park was to go to as many ranger programs as we could squeeze in. We started with the Amazing Animals talk in Agpar Village and after Brian finished answering questions, he stepped outside to identify an unfamiliar pine tree for me.
Back at the lodge we hustled out to the dock for a cruise on the DeSmet. Ranger Doug was waiting, microphone in hand, when we boarded. Rain threatened our tour of Lake McDonald, but a little foul weather wasn’t going to deter the veteran ranger. With more than fifty years of service in Glacier, he had lived through more than a few fires and floods and had tales to tell.
As we motored around the lake, he stressed the importance of water, fire, and ice in the ongoing evolution of the park. Doug spent years hiking on the glaciers and remembers when the ice first began to recede. Thinking it was only temporary, he found it hard to believe when he realized it wasn’t returning (the current estimate is that glaciers in the park will disappear by 2030). Before we disembarked, Doug left us with a piece of advice, “Next time you get on a boat make sure there’s not a ranger on it with a big hat and a mouth to match.”
At dusk we parked and walked to Fish Creek amphitheater for our final event. I regretted my forgotten umbrella, but the shower was short-lived and Ranger Sarah’s enthusiasm was contagious. She had just finished college with a degree in chemistry and this was her first summer as a ranger. She focused on the diversity present in the park starting at the lowest level—diatoms and moved up to insects. They’re not nearly as engaging as a mountain goat or a gray wolf, but by the time she was finished we were all rooting for the survival of the western glacier stonefly, a tiny creature found only in the park whose existence is threatened by the shrinking ice.
Back at the lodge I had a buffalo burger and a beer and scribbled all I could remember from the ranger talks in my notebook before I fell asleep.
Three years have passed since that day spent at Glacier but the memories stay with me: bunches of fluffy white bear grass in the forest; a sunbeam breaking through the clouds and lighting up the lake; three foxes with white-tipped tails next to the trail, as curious about us as we were about them.
To Rangers Brian, Doug, and Sarah I thank you for your passion, wit, and generosity!