julia-yarbough_new_web.jpgTypically, I wouldn’t advocate for anyone to spend quality family and/or vacation time hanging out at a volcano. But as you know, there are exceptions to every rule.

There’s still time this summer season to put Yellowstone National Park in Montana onto your “must-do” travel itinerary. The first national park in the world, established in 1872, Yellowstone is the result of a catastrophic volcanic eruption 640,000 years ago.

That natural event formed a huge caldera, which now draws thousands of visitors from around the world to view the famous Old Faithful Geyser, which shoots steaming-hot water 184 feet into the air. Visitors also come to see the surreal thermal activity at the Mammoth Hot Springs.

Yellowstone is one of the most visited of the national park locations, (3.2 million visitors in 2009). My recent stop at this natural wonder allowed me to spot big horn sheep, mountain goats, bison, pronghorn antelope, marmot, badger and even a black bear.

The trip also revealed another disturbing observation: In three days of exploring, I saw fewer than 10 other people of color enjoying what belongs to all of us. It’s not so much that I was actively seeking out others who looked like me, but it was hard to ignore our absence.

Exposing more Americans of all backgrounds to the park is a budding goal of The Yellowstone Association. The agency is an educational arm of the park that strives to give visitors a deeper understanding of the region, the ecosystem and the wildlife.

“People have to understand the significance of the place. Until they really understand the park and how it works as an ecosystem, they are not going to be interested in helping to preserve it,” said Jeff Brown, education director of The Yellowstone Association, a nonprofit that supports preservation of the park.

Brown said that educating more diverse populations about Yellowstone, and in fact all the national parks, is becoming increasingly important. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people of color (African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc.) will be the predominant population in the United States by 2042. Environmental educators within the parks are taking note that preservation for future generations requires involvement from this shifting and emerging majority.

“The goals of the Association are to reach as many people as possible with our education message related to Yellowstone,” Brown said. “Increasingly, we’re looking for new ways to reach a new audience. For instance, we’re doing special programs like My Yellowstone Adventure.”

The three-year young pilot program has flown youngsters from the Tacoma, Washington area and South Dallas, Texas regions to Montana. There, the young people spend four days taking part in guided, educational wildlife and ecosystem tours through the park, and lodging at The Yellowstone Association’s field camps.

“Several members of the association have financially supported the project. We understand the future depends on the next generation,” Brown said.

Even so, he admits, “the program and a commitment to it is still in its infancy.”

Editor’s Note: Julia Yarbough, a former news anchor at NBC 6, is the founder of Highway to a Husband, a website that chronicles her travels throughout the country as she seeks out her soul mate. To read more of Julia’s columns, log onto SFLTimes.com. To follow more of her outdoor adventures, go to www.highwaytoahusband.com


For more information on planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park, please contact The Yellowstone Association at 406-848-2400, or log onto www.YellowstoneAssociation.org or www.nps.gov/yell.