Teaching Stewardship to Our Youth
Morning light over Union Falls in Yellowstone National Park
The following is a letter I sent to Suzanne Lewis, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, in response to impending restrictions on large groups as a result of pressure from the Sierra Club.
It has recently been brought to my attention that restrictions are being imposed on access to Yellowstone's wilderness by larger groups through the Commercial Use Authorization process.
While I applaud and encourage efforts to ensure conservation and protection of the natural beauties that are contained in Yellowstone and it's back country, I feel that some of these restrictions will inadvertently prohibit many of our youth from experiencing and learning how to protect this and other wilderness.
In my youth, I learned stewardship
As a teenager during the summer of 1990 and for the following two summers, I was privileged to serve on staff at under the direction of Delose Conner. As I am sure you are aware, Camp Loll is a summer camp for the Boy Scouts of America located just outside your southern boundary accessible from the Grassy Lake road. During my tenure at Camp Loll, I hiked to Terraced Falls, Union Falls, and Grassy Lake no less than 16 times.
At the beginning of each summer, Delose or the camp's program director would lead all staff members to both of these waterfalls. Each time, they would stress the importance to us to ensure the protection of this delicate ecosystem when, in later weeks, we would be responsible to lead groups of young men on hikes to the falls in the Cascade Corner of Yellowstone.
It is because of my experience at Camp Loll that my appreciation and respect of this and all wilderness was solidified. We always made diligent efforts to make sure that we stayed on official trails, packed out all of our and any other garbage we found and respected other hikers seeking the same experience we were.
As an adult, I teach stewardship
On a Saturday in late June 2005, my father and I hiked to Union Falls from the Cascade Creek trailhead. We made our way to Union Falls where we enjoyed lunch as we overlooked the beautiful falls. A small snow bank was still on the north slope to the right of the falls. The old trail leading up to the falls had completely grown in and the landscape surrounding the falls was green once again. I loved the switch back trail that present the falls in their full glory all at once. We then hiked our way up to Scout Pool and then back to the trailhead. In the nearly 18 miles of hiking we did that day, we did not come across any other hikers until we forded the Falls River on our way back out, about 16 miles into our hike.
It was a beautiful day and for such a beautiful hike, I was actually disappointed that we didn't see more hikers on that late June Saturday.
This last summer (August 2009), I had the privilege of returning to Camp Loll as an adult leader of our scout group. Of the twelve in our group, seven had never been to Yellowstone. When it came to hike day, five of the young men hiked to Union Falls under the guide of trained staff members, while the rest of our group hiked to Terraced Falls with other trained staff members.
As a former staff member, I was impressed with the diligence and effort that the staff displayed in teaching these young men responsibility and respect of what they were about to hike in. The staff also taught them about the risks and precautions related to preserving the flora and fauna as they hiked. All in our group said that these hikes were the climax of their experience at Camp Loll. Everyone of them want to return to Camp Loll, largely because of their visits to Yellowstone's back country.
Throughout our stay at Camp Loll, the staff stressed the importance of protecting the beauty of the wilderness that we were in; not only while we were in Yellowstone, but while in camp.
During our week, I saw many of these pre-teens and teens wander off trails, trampling some of the vegetation. At the beginning of the week, it was mainly staff members that would remind them to stay on trail. At about the middle of the week, it was their peers that reminded them to stay on the trails. By the end of the week, I saw many of these remaining few young men remind and correct themselves. In less than seven days, young men who had never been in the middle of such beauty learned how to respect it.
Delose Conner has been the camp director at Loll for the majority of the last 30+ years. You will not find anyone else that has such a deep affection for the wilderness as Delose does. Where Delose shines, is that he is an educator, he shares his knowledge and love for the wilderness with others. In his time at Loll, I am certain that he and his staff have directly taught over 50,000 young men stewardship based on the premise that we don’t own resources, but are managers of resources and are responsible to future generations for their condition. As a former staff member, I continue to teach stewardship based on principles he taught me. His efforts will continue for generations to come.
Upon returning to Camp Loll after nearly 20 years since my tenure as a staff, I was impressed at how much of the camp was more lush than I remembered. Where trails I remembered used to be, there were young trees and wildflowers in its place. On the banks of streams, I saw lush moss thriving immediately next to narrow trails. This was both in camp, and in Yellowstone.
When you have somewhere around 2,500 teen age boys with almost no understanding of wilderness protection coming to Camp Loll each summer, it is amazing to see these young men learn principles of stewardship that will remain for the rest of their lives. They learn how to preserve natural beauty so that when they bring their children to Yellowstone in the next generation, it looks the same, if not better than the day they hiked the same trails. This was my experience 20 years later.
If they are prevented or discouraged from developing this valuable asset in their lives, they may never learn or nurture a passion and respect for the wilderness. It is because of my hikes to Union and Terraced Falls that I gained my strong passion of the wilderness and now currently teaching the youth the same. I learned stewardship and now teach it.
I appreciate the efforts of stewardship you and your staff are making to preserve the beauty of our wilderness. I sincerely hope that you will please consider the contribution that Camp Loll makes in teaching stewardship to future generations and has done so for the past 50 years; please ensure that it can continue indefinitely. Camp Loll is an invaluable asset focused on protecting Yellowstone and all of our wilderness through education of our youth.
Tyler K. Wangsgard