August 26, 2009
President Visits Yellowstone
The Obama family takes an outing to see American icon Old Faithful
While visiting the rocky mountain west, President Obama took a break from his town hall meetings on health care reform to bring his family to Yellowstone National Park.
On Saturday, August 15, the first family arrived in the Park in unusual style in a helicopter that landed in a clearing near Black Sand Basin. They were greeted by cheering crowds who had tolerated traffic jams and area closures to catch a glimpse of the Presidential party.
While the trip was a private family visit to allow the President’s daughters to experience some of the natural wonders of the west, the President also used the opportunity to raise awareness of “fee-free weekends” and encourage Americans to visit the parks. Their visit occurred on the third of three weekends this summer when the National Park Service waived entrance fees for park visitors. (There will also be a fee-free day on September 26 in honor of National Public Lands Day.)
The Obama family enjoyed touring and learning about both Black Sand Basin and the Upper Geyser Basin with Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis and interpretive ranger Katy Duffy. Their outing also included a picnic lunch and a stop at one of the Yellowstone General Stores for ice cream.
Few people know as much about the Old Faithful area as Katy Duffy. She is Yellowstone’s West District Interpretive Ranger and is based at Old Faithful year-round. She has worked in Yellowstone for the past ten years, and the National Park Service for a total of 27 years.
“Helping to host the President was the single greatest honor of my career thus far,” said Duffy.
When asked if she was nervous, she said that the only stressful part was communicating back and forth with the visitor center staff to estimate the time of the next eruption of Old Faithful; they wanted to be sure the President and his family were able to witness an eruption. Regarding the tour, Duffy said that that the President put her immediately at ease.
“He exited his vehicle with a smile on his face and was obviously happy to be here,” recalls Duffy. “He had so many questions about the geothermal features what created the bright colors in the pools, how deep are the hot springs, what makes geysers erupt that I just did my job, which is helping visitors understand and appreciate Yellowstone’s wonders.”
At Black Sand Basin, the President marveled aloud at the beauty of Emerald Pool and Rainbow Pool, and was treated to several eruptions of Cliff Geyser.
As the first family strolled the boardwalk around Old Faithful, Duffy and Superintendent Lewis chatted with the President about other topics such as Obama’s visit to Yellowstone with his mother and grandmother when he was eleven years old, and the significant re-growth of the area’s trees following the 1988 fires. The President seemed fascinated when Duffy explained that lodgepole pines have a certain type of cone that only releases its seeds in the extreme heat of a forest fire, and repeated the information for his daughters.
While the historic visit was brief, it underscored the importance of Yellowstone -- the world’s first national park -- as a natural and cultural treasure. Like so many of us, President Obama wanted to share the wonders that he experienced in Yellowstone as a child with his own children.