Growing up in Yellowstone National Park (Part 1)

I was fortunate enough to have gotten to grow up in Yellowstone National Park. I lived  in Mammoth, WY, Yellowstone’s headquarters for 15 years, before my family moved to the neighboring town of Gardiner MT, along the northern boundary of the Park, at the only entrance open year round.


School in Yellowstone

Not only was I lucky enough to live in Yellowstone, I got to attend Elementary School inside Yellowstone. These are honestly probably some of my fondest memories from when I was a child. If my memory serves me right, there were about 46 students attending the year I graduated from 6th grade. My class had a total of 7 students, 6 boys, and 1 girl. Let’s just all take a moment to feel sorry for that poor girl, stuck with all us boys. (It’s definitely turned her into one hell of a tough chick though.)

There were only 5 or 6 staff members, Each teacher taught two grades, K-1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, and the music teacher, taught band, and was the school librarian as well. The average class size was about 5-7 students, so each teacher had 10-15 students on their hands.

The school was located along the edge of the employee residential area. There was no bus route, students walked to school, most of us only had about a 0.4 mile walk. This walk could be a challenge, during the Elk rut, it wasn’t uncommon to have to detour around an angry bull elk, or in the spring during calving to be chased by a cow elk protecting their new-born calf, hidden somewhere nearby. I can’t remember any of us actually getting stomped or injured by the Elk, but they definitely added a certain level of excitement to our walks to and from school. Wildlife aside, there was also the sometimes brutal weather affecting our walks to school, and once that snow hit, it was difficult as a child to focus on getting from point A to point B, when all you wanted to do was have snowball fights, and build forts win the snow with your friends.

One would think, having grown up in an area with such a remote and small school, the opportunities for field trips, or experiences like school plays would basically be non existent. I’d have to say it was the exact opposite, the Park Service funded the school quiet nicely, and the Parks Concessionaire chipped in frequently as well.

In the shoulder seasons, we took field trips into interior, and learned a ton about the amazing place we got to grow up, I probably hiked more while a student at that school, than I did when I was a Ranger in Yellowstone.  Once the temperature dropped, some of the parents would turn part of the playground into an ice rink, and the school recesses were moved around so that we had a longer break in the morning to go ice skating. (I know, in todays day and age the liability would shut that down in a heartbeat.) I can only recall one real injury caused by the ice rink, and that was when one of the teachers fell and broke their leg.

We also went cross country skiing in the park 5 or 6 times a winter, and let me tell you, there is just something special about experiencing Yellowstone in the winter. Especially when you are stuck on a trail in your cross country skis over a mile from the bus or roadway. It really puts thing in perspective, and you are forced to really acknowledge the power and beauty of Mother Nature. We had a big Thanksgiving feast every year as a school, which always included duck hunted by the schools principal, and put on a school play every Christmas, and the Missoula Children Theater put on a play every spring with us.

I’m so thankful I was able to attend Yellowstone Elementary School, unfortunately the school closed just one year after I graduated due to a lack of students and budget/management issues that began when the long term principal retired.

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