Note: This is a personal blog post and in no way represents the opinions, interests, or intentions of Yellowstone Association. This is solely my opinion which may change at any time.
Last winter I applied to work at Yellowstone Association (YA), the non-profit organization that contributes to education, preservation and research at Yellowstone National Park. A friend who is a NPS Ranger gave me a great recommendation after I’d already applied online, and I was thrilled to get an interview and subsequent job offer.
Recently the organization merged with Yellowstone Park Foundation and is now known as Yellowstone Forever.
Opportunities include volunteer or paid positions at Yellowstone Association Institute, at the headquarters, in lodges, or within one of many bookstores throughout the park. Most seasonal staff stay in condos in Gardiner, MT unless they travel in a RV. Then they pay a discounted price ($160 per month) for a full hookup site close to their work location.
Seasonal housing demands swell in springtime due to the vast amount of employees and volunteers required to keep services running smoothly. The biggest employers are the National Park Service, and concessionaires Xanterra Parks & Resorts and Delaware North.
Before I accepted the job I knew that I would have to share my RV site with a YA volunteer. Our RVs were only the width of a pallet from one another, and my neighbor changed midway through the season. While I certainly enjoyed the folks who were my neighbors, the walk from my truck to my front door was a gauntlet of hoses and cords. Our water lines and sewer hoses were doubled in length and did not drain well. It was just a mess.
However, the feeling of claustrophobia from living so close to another RVer was the only downside of my experience. Despite record breaking crowds this summer of the NPS Centennial (estimated at 4.5 million visitors), it was fun to serve visitors’ needs at a Yellowstone Association bookstore. At times it seemed like I was in the Tower of Babel – so many languages were being spoken at the same time. More than once, a foreign visitor held out a handful of coins for me to pick out the correct change, smiling and bobbing their heads in the universal sign of goodwill.
Our supervisor gathered folks together after the stores had closed about once a month for a bonfire, pizza party or picnic. This was a great way to kick back and get to know one another in a relaxed atmosphere. Being an introvert, I was thankful to be able to go home to my quiet RV and Miss Georgia rather than into the shared space of the condos which housed up to 4 people in 3 bedrooms.
A big part of working in the retail store is inviting visitors to join Yellowstone Association, which starts at a donation of $35 US per year. Many people renewed their memberships, and it was easy to promote this organization that does so much good for the park. Our warehouse needed help pricing merchandise this summer, so a few of us worked an extra shift there in addition to 32 hours in the store. We made the work fun – in fact I termed it WorkPlay…
The season runs from May through September for YA’s paid Retail Associates, and for 6 weeks or more for volunteer Information Assistants. My neighbor was a volunteer, so got her site for free in addition to a daily stipend. However, my neighbor and I both agreed that doubling up on one site was too close for comfort. We will both return to work for YA again next season, however, I chose a store with nicer RV site to live in, and she will pay out of pocket to live outside of the park.
Wi-fi was virtually non-existent in the park, and without Verizon service, cell phone signals are limited as well. So a weekly trip to Tumbleweed Books & Café was how I accomplished my freelance work, as well as maxing out my phone hotspot. Somehow I’ve survived without watching online TV and have read a dozen books.
In addition to being paid to work and play in Yellowstone National Park, we had the opportunity to take a three-day workshop at the Yellowstone Association Institute at no cost. Living at Lamar Buffalo Ranch for three days and getting to learn about the Birds of Yellowstone was priceless. New life birds included Golden eagle, Calliope hummingbird and American dipper. Nesting sites were spied on for Ospry, Red-tailed hawks and Sandhill cranes.
The highlight of my season was getting to attend the NPS Centennial with my coworkers and 6,000 other celebrants under a perfect Montana sky. Many trails and the Yellowstone River and surrounding countryside were explored, and I made several new friends. Overall, it has been one of the best summers of my entire life, and I am so grateful for these experiences and the folks who shared them.