Thousands work behind the scenes to keep Yellowstone running

Sun Jul 15, 2012 4:36pm EDT
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By Ruffin Prevost

CODY, Wyoming (Reuters) - For more than a decade, Richard Ranc has worked a summer job emptying trash cans, cleaning restrooms and performing minor repairs. The work comes with some of the most spectacular views in America, but there's always the risk of bear attack.

"I go from contrasting mountain forests to mud volcanoes to lakeside shorelines," said Ranc, a seasonal maintenance worker whose daily truck route takes him on a 110-mile (180-km) round-trip journey through the scenic splendor of Yellowstone National Park.

Ranc is one of 429 seasonal employees of the National Park Service who join more than 3,200 workers hired by private concession operators each summer to perform unheralded, behind-the-scenes duties that keep Yellowstone running.

These includes waiting tables, fixing flat tires, making beds, filling pot holes and, in Ranc's case, repairing sections of the 15 miles of boardwalk that wind through Yellowstone's geysers, bubbling mud pots and hot springs.

By mid-July, Ranc and others in his department are focused on trash.

Each of the 2,000 bear-proof trash cans at every picnic table, trailhead and vault toilet must be emptied daily to prevent waste food from attracting grizzly bears.

Two Yellowstone backcountry hikers were fatally mauled last summer in separate incidents involving the same grizzly, and Ranc said he has had a number of "close encounters" with bears. About 150 bears inhabit Yellowstone, which spans parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, and about 600 more roam the surrounding region.

Bears are not the only hazards for Baum's crew. Most of the park's roads - closed to cars and trucks in winter - lie above 6,500 feet in elevation, including three mountain passes higher than 8,200 feet. Baum's crew also helps plow the Beartooth Highway in Montana, just outside Yellowstone's northern boundary, which reaches 10,947 feet.   Continued...

A hiker drinks from a water bottle in front of Heart Lake in the Red Mountains of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson