Yellowstone at 150: Let’s explore Scouting’s ties to the first national park

Photo by Troop 4900

While the establishment of Yellowstone National Park predates the founding of the Boy Scouts of America by nearly 40 years, these two icons of Americana have seen their paths intersect again and again.

In fact, even before the BSA was founded, the individuals hired to patrol Yellowstone National Park to enforce the hunting prohibition were known not as park rangers but as “Yellowstone Park Scouts.”

By the late 1910s, forest rangers at Yellowstone enlisted Scouts (actual Boy Scouts this time) to help set up trailside camping places for tourists.

In the 1920s, Scouts began building trails at Yellowstone. The National Park Service supplied transportation, tools, tents and supervision, while the BSA furnished the workers, leaders and personal equipment.

In 1962, Scouts from across the Central Wyoming Council showed up for a massive roadside cleanup effort. In the spirit of leaving a place better than they found it, the Scouts cleaned 81 miles of roads from Cody, Wyo., to the east gate of Yellowstone.

Today there’s even a Scout camp, Camp Buffalo Bill, located just eight miles east of Yellowstone National Park, giving Scouts easy access to one of our nation’s finest treasures.

Through it all, Scouts and Venturers have planned weekend and weeklong trips to Yellowstone, paddling its waters, hiking and snowshoeing its trails, and marveling at its majesty.

Establishing the first

On March 1, 1872 — 150 years ago next week — the U.S. Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant established America’s first national park.

The statute, which was officially called “an act to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park,” ensured that this space would be preserved “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” for all time.

The statute was more than just words on paper. It meant that no trees could be felled for timber and no minerals could be mined. The wonders of this area, including abundant wildlife and fascinating geothermal features, would be retained “in their natural condition.”

Yellowstone, which has half the world’s active geysers, had attracted explorers and adventurers for a few years before being established as a national park. But humans have lived in the region for more than 10,000 years, according to the national park’s website.

“It was a place where Native Americans lived, hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian, and used thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes,” the National Park Service writes.

Its 10,000-plus hydrothermal sites, of which the geyser known as Old Faithful is the most famous, amaze even the most seasoned travelers.

In 1898, John Muir, called the “Father of the National Parks,” wrote that these geysers were like “white torrents of boiling water and steam, like inverted waterfalls” constantly “rushing up out of the hot, black underworld.”

Scouts leave their mark

Yellowstone National Park was 38 years old by the time the Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910.

But Scouts made up for lost time by regularly traveling inside the park’s borders.

One of the most noteworthy examples was in 1924, when a group of 32 Eagle Scouts from Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon spent two weeks building a trail in Yellowstone.

The path, appropriately named the Eagle Scout Trail, was 6 miles long and generally followed the same route as the Cook-Folsom Expedition of 1869.

The Eagle Scout Trail was the first trail in a national park to be constructed by Scouts, meaning any Scout who has helped build a trail at a national park since then stands on the shoulders of those intrepid 32.

So how did the Scouts do? Park superintendent H.M. Albright said the trail was “the best in the park,” according to Scouting magazine’s September 1924 edition.

Yellowstone and Scouting today

Over the years, the pages of Boys’ Life and Scout Life magazines have been filled with adventures of Scouts exploring Yellowstone National Park.

In recent years, Scouts cross-country skied through this “winter wonderland” without seeing any other humans, learned to use teamwork to stay safe when encountering a bison, and paddled 30 miles in four days across Yellowstone’s lakes and rivers.

What adventures — at Yellowstone and far beyond — await readers next? You’ll have to subscribe to Scout Life to find out.

About Bryan Wendell 3271 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.