BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Yellowstone National Park is about to turn 150 years old on March 1, and an array of activities are planned to honor the occasion.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, park staff haven't scheduled large-scale events commemorating Yellowstone's sesquicentennial. That could change as the year progresses, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said at a virtual event recently that the park's 150th anniversary is a time to reflect on the lessons of the past, but it's also a time to focus on the future.
"This isn't just about the last century-and-a-half," he said. "We also want to use this anniversary to do a better job of fully recognizing the many American Indian nations that lived in this area for thousands of years prior to Yellowstone becoming a park."
Over 10,000 years before the United States government preserved Yellowstone National Park, Native Americans had fished, hunted, gathered plants, gathered obsidian and used thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes there, park staff wrote.
President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act on March 1 1872, setting aside one of the world's largest nearly intact natural ecosystems for the "benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations," according to the park.
Beginning on March 1 this year, the park will host a series of activities to commemorate that date. Many Native American Tribes are expected to participate.
In August, multiple Tribal Nations will participate in installing a Teepee Village near the Roosevelt Arch. It will be an opportunity for them to directly interface with visitors and educate them about their culture and heritage out on the landscape, Sholly said.
At Old Faithful, park staff are converting a structure near the visitor education center into a Tribal Heritage Center, and Tribal Nations can use that space to display their artwork and cultural items for visitors to see, Sholly said.
"We're focused on really making sure we're telling these stories right, as the stewards of these parks," he said. "We're working with Tribal Nations to ask questions around 'What are we getting right? What are we getting wrong? What are we missing completely?'"
Also this year, park staff are preparing to open 40 new employee housing units. In addition, major groundbreakings for projects totaling over $125 million are planned. The funding came from the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act, which passed in 2020.
Following a $28 million road improvement project, the road from Tower Fall to Chittenden Road near Dunraven Pass will reopen this year, staff wrote. The road has been closed for two years.
Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Yellowstone National Park Lodges, said the park is a place of tremendous inspiration— inspiration that has "contributed to science, art, music, literature and so much more," and inspiration that has led to America's best idea.
While the pandemic has delayed or impacted much of the planning around the park's anniversary, Xanterra Parks will be hosting a public event on May 6 to commemorate the 150th summer season, Hoeninghausen said.
People can count on refreshments, and there will be a Native American art exhibition and marketplace at the Old Faithful Inn, and free tours around the Old Faithful area, he said.
Scott Frazier, a 72-year-old Crow Tribal member and the director of Project Indigenous, said he grew up visiting the park often, and in his opinion, Yellowstone is a sacred place.
"In this time of struggle between the human beings, these places are very important," he said. "To be able to come out and listen to nature — and not a machine, and not cars, and not your boss — to come out and sit and just listen to nature— it's very healing."
Helena Dore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org