Opening celebration for Yellowstone's new Old Faithful Visitor Center draws hundreds of visitors

Sam Galindo and his father, Peter (the NPS project architect) greet the first visitors to the center (Photo by Beth Pratt)Not to be upstaged, Old Faithful surged into the blue sky during the grand opening celebration of its new namesake visitor center, causing the hundreds in attendance to turn from the proceedings and watch the spectacular eruption.

The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center opened today, after almost eight years of planning and over two years of construction. Sam Galindo (the son of the National Park Service project architect) proudly waved a Yellowstone flag and led the first visitors into the building.

Wyoming residents Ben and Darlene Frint made the trip to Yellowstone just to see the new center. “Yellowstone is our favorite park—we’ve been coming here forever.” The Jaynes and Poulsen families—with infants in tow—were visiting the park from Wisconsin and joined the celebration. “We love the hands on stuff. This place is beautiful and amazing.”

Yellowstone’s Superintendent, Suzanne Lewis, introduced a series of special guests during the opening ceremony, including Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Tom Strickland. “We have a tremendous legacy in this country, a unique legacy of protecting our special places for the benefit and enjoyment of all, not just the few.”

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis spoke about how parks are not just beautiful places, but also centers of learning for students where they can be inspired to explore careers in science. Jarvis also praised the green building model of the new center “Parks should be an exemplar and world leader in sustainability. And this Gold LEED Certified building does just that.”

Lewis recognized the Yellowstone Park Foundation and its donors for making the center possible. “It’s hard for us to underestimate how much the efforts of the Yellowstone Park Foundation helped us get here today. They raised $15 million—over half of the budget.” The Foundation’s board chairman, Bannus Hudson, told the crowd, “As the park’s official fundraising organization, this is the proudest day in our history.” Major donors to the project include ConocoPhillips, the National Science Foundation, Shalin Liu, Unilver, Cheng Wu, Coca-Cola Foundation, and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, among others.

Paul Schullery, the author and Yellowstone historian featured in Ken Burn’s documentary,The National Parks, delivered the keynote address and called the center “a powerful new tool for celebrating Yellowstone.” He gave a brief history of visitor centers in the park. “Some of the early museums were called trailside museums, explicit emphasis on trailside, because the rangers, then and now, never let you forget that the real wonder is out there, not inside.”

And as if on cue, Old Faithful erupted soon after his remark.

National Park Service honors Yellowstone concessioner with environmental award

Xanterra received an award from the National Park Service for designing a system to burn used cooking oil in the historic Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park.The National Park Service honored Xanterra Parks & Resorts with four of its prestigious Environmental Achievement Awards, recognizing the company’s environmental initiatives at Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon South Rim, and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Daniel N. Wenk, acting director of the National Park Service, presented the award. He said this year’s winners were “setting an example by protecting not only NPS sites but also the land and environment beyond their borders.”

The Yellowstone operation received the award for its development of a new green energy source in the park. An employee team designed and implemented an innovative system that directly burns used cooking oil collected from area kitchens in hotel boilers, providing heat to the guest rooms. This project achieves significant environmental gains, most notably by reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by more than 200,000 pounds a year and eliminating the fossil fuels needed to transport the material offsite for recycling. The project represents just one of the many green initiativesspearheaded by Xanterra’s team at Yellowstone.

“Our employee ‘green teams’ and environmental affairs directors deserve a considerable amount of credit for developing and implementing successful environmental initiatives that truly make a difference in each location,” said Chris Lane, vice president of environmental affairs for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. “In remote national park locations, it is especially challenging to preserve and protect our natural resources and minimize our environmental footprint. To be recognized for our efforts by the National Park Service is a significant honor, and we are dedicated to continuing and enhancing these and other industry-leading environmental practices. We feel a strong sense of duty that comes with our stewardship of our country’s great national resources. All of us take this responsibility very seriously.”

For more information on the cooking oil to fuel project in Yellowstone and a photo slide show, you can read: From french fries to fuel: Yellowstone's new green energy.


Xanterra and other major U.S. companies urge Senate to act on climate change

Xanterra Parks & Resorts installs solar panels in Death Valley to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsXanterra Parks & Resorts partnered with eleven other major U.S. companies and the non-profit World Wildlife Fund in sending an open letter to the U.S. Senate that urges government to take immediate action on climate change.

“With this joint letter, we wish to make clear to the American public and their elected officials that leading voices in the business community believe it is in our interest for the U.S. to act swiftly to address climate change.” 

The companies sponsoring the letter—Bumble Bee Foods, Dell, DuPont, FPL Group, Google, Hewlett Packard, Johnson & Johnson. Johnson Diversey, Levi Strauss, Nike, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Xanterra Parks and Resorts—all have implemented reforms to address the growing challenges of climate change. They also believe these reforms translate into good business as well: “America can and must prosper in the face of growing climate change. Our companies have taken the first step by showing the economic opportunities of strong climate action.”

Xanterra Parks & Resorts strongly believes that sound environmental practices translate into good business as well. Xanterra’s President and CEO, Andrew Todd, thinks “we really have no choice: businesses must learn to succeed both financially and ecologically. Otherwise, we jeopardize our irreplaceable natural resources, as well as the future generations that depend upon them.” As the company manages concession operations in National Parks across the country, including Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Death Valley, Crater Lake, Grand Canyon, and Zion, it takes its role as an environmental steward very seriously.

In all of its locations, Xanterra has taken ambitious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its environmental impacts. In 2008, it installed a solar power system in Death Valley that generates enough electricity to power more than 700 American homes per year—and it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 23,000 tons over its 30-year life. In Yellowstone, the company diverts72% of its solid waste from landfill disposal through an aggressive recycling program and engineered a system that allows it to burn used cooking oil to heat the historic hotels in the park.


President Obama Visits Yellowstone

President Obama in Yellowstone National Park“Oh, that’s pretty good. Cool.” President Obama commented after watching Yellowstone’s famous geyser erupt. Old Faithful did not keep the First Family waiting long and burst into the blue sky more or less on schedule at 12:16 p.m.; hundreds of park visitors gathered across the boardwalk and cheered when the president arrived.

For those of us who work in Yellowstone, having the First Family visit the first National Park was an honor. As an environmental professional who has worked in support of parks for over a decade, I sincerely appreciated the President recognizing the importance of “America’s Best Idea” with his special family trip to Yellowstone. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis also joined the president for his tour.

My company, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, provided a special lunch for President Obama and his group, and I felt lucky to be selected to assist with the event. While the presidential party toured the mystical moonscape created by the unique geologic activity of Black Sand Basin, our crew readied the Old Faithful Snow Lodge for the meal. Working with the Secret Service, we watched as they conducted three different security sweeps (“sanitizing” is service lingo)--one sweep included an adorable and energetic bomb sniffing dog.

For the rest of the story and a slideshow, visit my Examiner page.

From French Fries to Fuel: Yellowstone's New Green Energy

Yellowstone employee serving fries--and creating green energyNext time you enjoy an order of french fries while visiting Yellowstone National Park, you’re not only satisfying your appetite, but you’re also helping provide green energy for heating the park’s hotels.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a concessioner in Yellowstone, recently designed innovative new equipment for its boiler system to allow for the direct burning of used cooking oil for fuel.

Yellowstone’s operations include a sizable food service component. On a typical summer’s day, Xanterra prepares over 22,000 meals in seventeen restaurants and eight employee dining rooms. On an annual basis, food preparation generates between 9,000 to 11,000 gallons of cooking oil. In the past, the used cooking oil has been shipped offsite almost 250 miles for recycling.

To read the rest of the story visit my new Examiner site.


Transportation Conference in the Grand Tetons

mt moran.jpgThe last two days I’ve been attending a conference on transportation strategies for the Greater Yellowstone area at the Grand Teton Lodge, sponsored by the Yellowstone Business Partnership. The keynote speaker, Todd Litman, provided some inspirational and thought provoking ideas about our perceptions of transportation—he is the founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. I attended other interesting sessions on transportation in national parks, “smart streets,” and regional trail networks.

The Grand Tetons lent the conference a spectacular setting. The main room at the Grand Teton Lodge has a breathtaking view of Mount Moran in its enormous floor-to-ceiling window. Moose and grizzly bears often wander on the property. Last night I stood outside of my room and watched the first thunderstorm I have seen since leaving California. Lightning danced on the high peaks and the downdraft from the energetic clouds felt wonderful (and not chilly!) on my face.

Mount Moran, pictured at right, stands 12,605 feet high and was named for the famed landscape artist Thomas Moran.

Wyoming Governor's Conference on Tourism

Attending the two Governor's conferences on tourism has been helpful since I'm new to the area. To reach the Wyoming event, we had to drive 6 1/2 hours across Montana and Wyoming--a good sampling of the landscape of both states. I traveled with my new boss, the general manager for Xanterra in Yellowstone, and the director of marketing. My boss already has figured out the key to managing me--we made stops at Dairy Queen both ways for chocolate blizzards. On the drive home listening to the Pennsylvania primary unfold kept us occupied.

Wyoming%20Sign.jpgMy colleague at Grand Teton Lodge Company and I presented "Turning Green Into Greenbacks" at the conference, discussing the economic advantages of going green. We had a good session and participants had a number of suggestions and questions. I think I always learn more from these trainings than I contribute as the ideas really flow from the audience. As I have a training in Jackson Hole next month, my co-presenter has promised me a tour of the town. One of the great parts of this job is working with such talented peers and I learned much from her professional expertise as well.

Cute%20Bed.jpgThe keynote speaker provided one of my personal highlights of the conference. Watts Wacker (yes, we had some fun with the name), a noted futurist, spoke about the brave new world we are entering and his engaging vision made for some provocative ideas. His claim that we've left the information age and entered the age of uncertainty and contradictions rang true to this generation X'er. I also liked his theory of home as being not a place anymore but a concept. Another highlight--my cute round bed at the conference hotel!

Montana Governor's Conference on Tourism

rick with yellow bus.jpgThe first leg of what I am dubbing my "Green Tour 2008" concluded today. For the past couple of days I've been attending the Montana Governor's Conference on Tourism in West Yellowstone and presented as part of a panel on "The Greening of Yellowstone." For the next week and a half, I'll be traveling around Montana and Wyoming on a series of speaking engagements on green business and the sustainability programs at Yellowstone. Tomorrow morning I head for Casper, Wyoming for the Wyoming Governor's Conference on Tourism, then back to West Yellowstone for a Yellowstone Business Partnership session, then onto Jackson Hole for another training.

For this conference, we got to travel in style. My co-worker Rick, the director of marketing for Xanterra in Yellowstone, drove us in one of the refurbished yellow buses that are now used to give tours in the park. At first I thought Rick knew everybody in a 100 mile radius because of all of the waves we received, but people just love these old fashioned yellow buses.

ms montana.jpgThe sessions were excellent and provided me with a good introduction to my new home state. Cheryl Charles, the President of the Children & Nature network (cofounded by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods), gave an excellent presentation about "no child left inside" and I had a chance to speak with her at one of the social events about developing green education for kids. Other highlights: the Yahoo yodeling guy, Wylie Gustafson, taught all 400 participants how to yodel and provided the musical entertainment for our farewell dinner and dance, and I also got to meet Ms. Montana!

Jack Bauer Goes Green

Found this on the internet and I couldn't resist. I am going through 24 withdrawal since this season got postponed, damn it! ( 24 fans will understand the expletive). I used the photo below in my first environmental trainings in Yellowstone today and promised to loan out some 24 dvds as a result.

By the way, if you haven't replaced your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs), what are you waiting for? CFLs are 75% more efficient than incandescents, last ten times longer, and with each bulb you replace, you'll keep a half a ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Replace your bulbs today-you don't want to mess with Jack.

Meeting with Senator Jon Tester

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D) from Montana visited Yellowstone today, and I had a chance to meet with him as he was interested in the environmental programs in the park. I enjoyed our session, and was very impressed with his candor, sincerity, and intelligence.

I was also impressed with his background. Senator Tester and his wife run an organic farm in northern Montana on the land his grandparents homesteaded over a hundred years ago. He also possesses a bachelor of science in music, and worked as a music teacher in the public schools early in his career. He shares a hometown of Big Sandy, Montana with Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament, and the band played a concert to support his run for the senate. It's pretty cool to be represented by a democratic senator from Montana who runs an organic farm, is interested in the environment, has an appreciation for music, and likes Pearl Jam.

Join Earth Hour!

Earth%20HourWorld Wildlife Fund is organizing Earth Hour on 29 March 2008 at 8pm, and it looks like the event is going to be really big. So far, as well as Sydney, there'll also be Adelaide, Atlanta, Bangkok, Brisbane, Canberra, Chicago, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Dublin, Manila, Melbourne, Montreal, Odense, Ottawa, Perth, Phoenix, San Francisco, Suva, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Vancouver all turning off their lights for an hour in the name of fighting global warming. And I'm sure there'll be more cities by March.

Sign up for Earth Hour with me by visiting and join the movement!

Yellowstone's Inconvenient Truth

Many people still think of global climate change as happening in distant lands: the starving polar bears and melting ice caps certainly give cause for alarm, but most of us feel a separateness from images taken thousands of miles away. Yet our own backyard isn't escaping the heat (pun intended), it's just that the effects can't be captured as easily in a dramatic photograph. The global climate change phenomena is already having significant--and alarming--repercussions in our national parks.

Last night I attended a great presentation by Dr. James Halfpenny at his center in Gardiner on global climate change in Yellowstone. Dr. Halfpenny has been conducting research on climate change since the early stages of his career, and directed the Niwot Ridge long-term ecological monitoring site in Colorado.

I've followed Yosemite's situation closely, and Yellowstone faces similar issues, in general if not in specifics. While the studies I followed in Yellowstone involved mainly water (or the lack thereof given an earlier and earlier snowmelt), Yellowstone's biggest loss may be its wildlife. For example, the invasion of exotic flora that does not provide suitable forage for ungulates may threaten Yellowstone's magnificent bison and elk herds. Warming temperatures have already caused an increase of pine beetle infestations, which have reduced white bark pines, a prime source of grizzly bear food.

Stephen Saunders, author of a recently released report on climate change in the park, observes: "If we continue to increase our emissions of heat-trapping gases, a disrupted climate will cause the greatest damage to our national parks ever." A recent feature article in High Country News: Unnatural Preservation, outlines the tough dilemma public land managers face with the consequences of climate change: they can become "zookeepers and gardeners" or "let wildlife perish."

Imagine Yosemite's waterfalls running dry in February. Or Glacier National Park losing its namesake attraction. How about Yellowstone empty of elk and bison? Now doesn't that make you want to bike to work tomorrow or turn off that computer at night?

Sustainability at Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa

For the uninitiated, Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa is the official "IT" spot in southern Montana. Granted, it doesn't have much in the way of competition, but even some destinations in metropolitan areas would be hard pressed to match its charm.

img_0343.jpgThe resort offers two large pools fed by mineral hot springs, a first-class restaurant that offers some of my favorites--including oysters on the half shell--(and the staff cultivates a garden and greenhouse for fresh produce), a relaxing day spa, and according to one sign, "romantically historic" accommodations (I love that phrase). Additionally, the site provides stunning views of Paradise Valley and the Absaroka Mountain Range.

Yesterday, I attended a staff training at Chico--the topic was sustainability. Jim Evanoff, the National Park Service's environmental manager and the person who has provided invaluable leadership for "greening" the park gave a presentation about Yellowstone's environmental initiatives. I spoke briefly about Xanterra's contributions. The Chico Hot Spring staff has been implementing a number of greening programs, from minimizing plastic use onsite, to concerted recycling efforts, to focusing on sustainable purchasing.

For those of you who visit, we'll definitely make a trip to Chico Hot Springs--bring your bathing suit!

Yellowstone Business Partnership

I do feel pity for the folks I left behind in California. You are missing the experience of arriving home at 9:00 pm after having driven through a sparkling snowstorm with high winds blowing "cold smoke" across the road, and then having to shovel the snow drifts off your stairway in 10F weather. O the joy!

A Yellowstone Business Partnership meeting today brought me for the first time to West Yellowstone, a western winter town in the truest sense--snowmobiles buzzed up and down the street during our visit. The low in West Yellowstone was -30F last night, and it didn't warm up much during the day as the windows on our car iced up on the inside even with the heat running full blast. For some reason, the ending of Jack London's famous story, "To Build a Fire" keeps occurring to me.

More about the Yellowstone Business Partnership (YBP)--a truly inspiring organization and I'm honored to now be a part of their training team. The council has done unprecedented work in greening businesses in the Yellowstone area with its innovative "UnCommon Sense" business leadership program. Businesses enroll in a two-year program that features five group workshops along with a learning team leader who offers resources, coaching, and an accountability check.

I carpooled from Bozeman with a great group from the environmental community: the Director of Environmental Affairs for Delaware North, the new Sustainability Program Manager for the YBP, and a manager for the Bozeman MacKenzie Pizza Company (my favorite pizza!) who transformed her company's culture as a result of her participation in UnCommon Sense. Other participants at the meeting included a retired physicist, the environmental manager for the Grand Teton Lodge Company, and a chemist developing products from potato processing by-products. I am really looking forward to working with this group!