Grand Teton National Park Closely Monitors Gros Ventre River Bank Erosion

May 28, 2008

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott announced today that park staff and federal highways officials are closely tracking and monitoring the erosion of the north bank of the Gros Ventre River as it relates to a portion of the Gros Ventre Road between the junction with Highway 26/89/191 and the Gros Ventre Campground. Due to the spring runoff and recent rains, the Gros Ventre River is swollen and flowing fast. The force of the river’s current is gradually eroding away a section of river bank near to the road surface. At present, 24 feet of roadside remains between the river bank and the edge of the road itself.

Park rangers have placed bright orange traffic cones along the segment of road that is subject to bank erosion. Motorists should heed these traffic cones—which mark the undercut bank of the Gros Ventre River—and not drive onto the road shoulder at that location. Pedestrians should also avoid walking along the road shoulder near the traffic cones. As a prudent measure, visitors should refrain from walking along the banks of any fast-moving rivers or streams throughout the park.

Federal highways engineers recently surveyed the situation with park officials and have provided recommendations for a contingency plan in the event that the river bank continues to slough off and compromise the stability of the road surface. They are also assisting the park in determining future options for reducing additional bank erosion.

The deepening river channel and swift current will determine what can be safely accomplished in the near term. Park officials are frequently monitoring the situation and analyzing remediation options that can be scheduled for a later date when river flows have subsided.

Grand Teton National Park Breaks Ground on Pathway Project

May 20, 2008

Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott and the staff of Grand Teton National Park hosted over 100 people at an outdoor event on Saturday, May 17, to mark the beginning of construction on multi-use pathways in the park. National Park Service Intermountain Region Director Mike Snyder, National Parks and Conservation Association President Tom Kiernan and Trustee Emeritus Gretchen Long, Friends of Pathways Board Member Don Alsted, and Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) served as honored guest speakers for a groundbreaking ceremony held in Moose, Wyoming against a backdrop of the snow-covered Teton Range.

Superintendent Scott welcomed the audience, which included David Axelrad, father of Gabriella Axelrad. Thirteen-year-old Gabriella was accidentally killed by an inattentive driver while bicycling on a park road in 1999, and her untimely death began a movement to establish separated pathways in Grand Teton.

Superintendent Scott also paid tribute to the late Senator Craig Thomas for his unwavering dedication to Grand Teton National Park and his ability to secure federal appropriations for special projects such as the new Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center and multi-use pathways. Senator Thomas was able to obtain $8 million in federal appropriations for park pathways.

In addition, Superintendent Scott acknowledged the interest and support shown by the local community, as well as the Teton County commissioners, Jackson Mayor Mark Barron and the Jackson Town Council, who have been instrumental in establishing pathways within the town of Jackson and the valley of Jackson Hole. At the completion of remarks, Superintendent Scott invited all the guest speakers to join her with gold-colored shovels in hand to break ground where the pathway will be constructed.

Full construction will begin later this month on the first pathway segment—an 8-mile section that runs parallel to the Teton Park Road from Dornan’s, near the junction with Highway 26/89/191, to the South Jenny Lake area. The first portion of the pathway segment will be complete in fall of 2008, with the remainder completed by fall of 2009. Superintendent Scott reminded the audience that the park’s transportation plan will be implemented in stages as planning, design and appropriations become available.

In her final remarks, Superintendent Scott said: “As the pathway begins to take shape, we recognize the important balance between maintaining critical wildlife habitat and providing safe visitor access. Through these pathways, along with our hiking trails and new visitor center, we have set the stage for our visitors to form personal connections that inspire them to become more conservation-minded, and more engaged in helping to care for the land, our incomparable wildlife, and our common heritage. We need to keep in mind that all of us are stewards of this special place, for present-day and future generations.”

Annual Spring Clean-Up to Occur in Grand Teton National Park

May 19, 2008

Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott announced today that Grand Teton National Park staff and concession employees will join together for the annual park clean-up day on Thursday, May 22. From 8 a.m. to noon, employees will be out picking up litter along park roadways, turnouts and parking lots before summer visitors arrive. Anyone driving through Grand Teton on Thursday morning should be alert for people walking along the roads. Slow moving and parked vehicles will be encountered during clean-up hours.

Each year before the summer season is in full swing, park and concession employees take time to remove litter and debris from park roadsides and turnouts. This activity typically takes place by mid May; however, this year the park clean-up was rescheduled for May 22 due to the lingering snow cover along many of the park’s roads.

"Although park staff and concessioner employees traditionally take this time to ‘spruce up’ the park before summer visitors arrive, each and everyone who visits Grand Teton can eliminate unsightly trash by placing any litter in garbage cans and dumpsters located throughout the park. This relatively simple, and responsible, act is very much appreciated,” said Superintendent Scott.

The Craig Thomas and Colter Bay visitor centers and bookstores, as well as the interagency communication center and law enforcement patrols, will continue normal operations while clean-up efforts are under way throughout the park.

Grand Teton National Park Rangers Receive Interior Department Valor Awards

May 15, 2008

Renny Jackson, Chris Harder, Jack McConnell, Dave Bywater, Ed Visnovske, and Steve Rickert received a Department of the Interior Valor Award from Secretary Dirk Kempthorne at a special ceremony held on Tuesday, May 13, 2008, in Washington D.C. Five of the valor award recipients are rangers at Grand Teton National Park who serve on the mountain rescue team based at Jenny Lake; Rickert, who worked as a seasonal ranger during the 1980s and 1990s, is a registered nurse at St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming. Visnovske was recognized for unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk during a 2002 rescue on Middle Cathedral Rock in Yosemite Valley at Yosemite National Park. Jackson, Harder, McConnell, Bywater and Rickert received their awards for heroic actions during a life-saving mountain rescue operation in 2004 on Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park. In both rescue incidents, lives were saved by the professionalism, skill and courage of these six men.

Denali National Park Chief Ranger Pete Armington recommended valor awards for Jackson, Harder, McConnell, Bywater and Rickert, and submitted the following account of the Mt. McKinley rescue: On May 20, 2004, Korean climber Ho Cho sustained severe head injuries in a fall on Mt. McKinley’s West Buttress. While his climbing partner descended for help, Cho endured an exposed night at 18,200 feet. Extreme weather turned back two rescue attempts by Cho’s teammates. Alerted by radio, park rangers at the 14,200-foot camp mobilized a rescue team consisting of NPS employees Bywater, Harder, Jackson, McConnell, and Rickert, as well as two British volunteers. They reached the 17,200-foot high camp in just over three hours, a remarkable demonstration of strength and stamina given the elevation, technical terrain, and whiteout conditions. Rickert and Bywater initially remained to erect dome tents and construct snow walls for protection from high winds, an effort that later proved critical to the survival of both Cho and the rescuers. Meanwhile, their teammates began the climb to Denali Pass to locate Cho on the Harper Glacier, 800 feet below the Pass. Semi-conscious and severely frostbitten, Cho was packaged in a rescue sled and dragged back up to the Pass.

The team then faced a series of time-consuming technical rope lowerings to the 17,200-foot camp in gale-force winds, arctic temperatures, and driving snow. With time of the essence, Jackson placed a single ice axe as an initial anchor. Harder and McConnell attended the litter while the British volunteers established the next anchor system. The patient was carefully lowered down the steep, treacherous terrain, and then transferred to the next system, a leap-frogging method repeatedly employed for several hours. Soon after the lowering started, Bywater and Rickert rejoined the team, providing crucial relief for their exhausted teammates. Visibility at this time was often less than 100 feet, and the avalanche hazard steadily increased. The entire rescue team finally reached the temporary safety of the high camp shelter after 18 hours of grueling and dangerous work. During the night, Rickert and Harder provided constant medical care to the patient. Continuing bad weather the following day forced the team to complete a 3,000-foot technical rope lowering (with Rickert attending the rescue litter) to the 14,200-foot camp, from where Cho was evacuated a day later. Without this team’s selfless efforts, there is no doubt Cho would have perished.

Denali Chief Ranger Armington stated, “Over the last 35 years, I have seen NPS rangers execute many remarkable rescues—in Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Denali. Few, if any, of these rescues required the sheer physical team effort and endurance that this one did. What the Grand Teton patrol accomplished, without any air support and under the most extreme environmental conditions, stands out as a truly amazing and astounding life-saving achievement. They are heroes!”

Yosemite National Park Emergency Services Manager Keith Lober recommended the valor award for Visnovske, and submitted the following account of the rescue operation on Middle Cathedral Rock:On June 2, 2002, just before nightfall, Yosemite Valley rangers received a report of a significant rock fall followed by calls for help coming from the Direct North Buttress route on Middle Cathedral Rock. Using a spotting scope and public address system, rangers determined that 33-year old John Kurth of Durango, Colorado, had been caught in a rock fall that swept over him, injuring his neck, his shoulder, and fracturing his elbow. Due to nightfall and the difficult position of the climbing party—1,700 feet above the valley floor at the base of a long chimney system laden with loose rock—it was decided that it would be necessary to wait until morning to conduct the rescue effort. Kurth’s climbing partner held Kurth’s arm in traction as they huddled all night on a tiny sloping ledge. Early the next morning, rangers John Dill, Dave Horne, Greg Lawler and Ed Visnovske, and firefighters Dan Gleason and Shawn Walters, rappelled from the park’s helicopter to a small ledge 300 feet above the injured climber. From this dangerous, small ledge, the rescue team worked together to build a technical rope rigging system and then lowered Ranger Dave Horne three hundred feet down the loose rock in the chimney system to Kurth’s location. The entire area remained very much at risk of continued rock fall throughout the rescue operation. The rescue team handling the technical rope system at the top of the long chimney had to be vigilant of rock fall hitting them from above, and also had to be cautious about accidentally initiating a rock fall onto the victim and rescuers below in the vertical chimney. Once with the patient, Ranger Horne packaged Kurth into a rescue litter with the assistance of Kurth’s climbing partner. The rescue team then reversed their rope system and cautiously hauled Ranger Horne and Kurth to the top of the chimney where they were short-hauled by long line under the park helicopter to El Capitan Meadow and a waiting ambulance. The rest of the rescue team, Dill, Lawler, Visnovske, Walters and Gleason were then short-hauled by the helicopter to El Capitan Meadow. For his heroic actions, courage, teamwork, and professionalism, Edward Visnovske is granted the Valor Award of the Department of the Interior.

Yosemite EMS Manager Lober stated, “This was a difficult, technical rescue that demanded a high-level of skill, caution and proficiency to execute. Ed was instrumental to the rescue operation, and the entire team used their climbing expertise to safely carry out a successful mission, bringing Mr. Kurth to safety and needed medical care.”

Valor awards are presented to Department of the Interior employees who have demonstrated unusual courage involving a high degree of personal risk in the face of danger. The act of heroism is not required to be related to official duties, or to have occurred at the official duty station. Recipients receive a special certificate and citation signed by the Secretary, and an engraved gold valor award medal.

Boyd Evison Graduate Fellowship Awarded for 2008

May 12, 2008

Grand Teton National Park and the Grand Teton Association (GTA) are pleased to announce that Emilene Ostlind has received the Boyd Evison Graduate Fellowship for 2008. Ostlind, the fourth recipient of an Evison Fellowship, is currently pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Wyoming in Laramie in the disciplines of creative writing, and environment and natural resources. She plans to use her fellowship award to produce a series of nonfiction essays about the pronghorn antelope herd that summers in Grand Teton National Park and winters in the Upper Green River Basin as a means to promote designation of a national migration corridor for their protection.

Ostlind graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Wyoming in 2004. She earned multiple undergraduate degrees: a B.A. in environment and natural resources, a B.A. in humanities/fine arts, and a B.A. in Spanish. Ostlind has also received numerous awards and honors during her academic career, including becoming a Wyoming candidate for a Rhodes Scholarship in 2004.

In her application for the Evison Fellowship, Ostlind states, “While scientific studies, resource management planning and even political lobbying play crucial roles in the conservation of habitat and wild places, I would propose that creative arts most strongly influence public attitudes about how to prioritize land use.” Ostlind also states that, “Throughout the history of American conservation, each landmark event or movement has been preceded by literature that compelled general audiences and connected them to landscapes, flora, fauna, and other ecosystem elements—often those in imminent danger.” As part of her project, Ostlind plans to hike the length of the pronghorn migration path from the Red Desert south of Pinedale to Grand Teton National Park. She will also spend the summer interacting with scientists and conservationist groups who are trying to bring attention to the pronghorn migratory path and the establishment of a national migration corridor.

The Evison Fellowship was established in memory of Boyd Evison after his death in October, 2002, and created to honor Boyd’s extensive and dedicated service to both the National Park Service (NPS) and GTA. Evison retired in 1994 from an exemplary 42-year career with the NPS and soon after began a second career as executive director for the GTA, a non-profit park partner dedicated to aiding interpretive, educational, and research programs for Grand Teton National Park.

Evison Fellowships provide tuition assistance and a yearly stipend to cover travel and field research costs; Grand Teton offers housing and office space for students during field sessions. The goal of the fellowship is to encourage scientific and conservation-related research in national parks. It invites highly motivated, graduate students to conduct research within Grand Teton and the greater Yellowstone area; and it supports study leading to a master’s or Ph.D. degree in the biosciences, geosciences or social sciences. Upon program completion, the Evison Fellow provides a copy of his/her thesis to the GTA.

To inquire about applying for a Boyd Evison Graduate Fellowship, or to donate funds toward this worthy program, please contact Jan Lynch, executive director, Grand Teton Association at P.O. Box 170, Moose, Wyoming, 83012, or call 307.739.3406.

Delayed Opening of Facilities in Grand Teton National Park

May 6, 2008

All facilities at south Jenny Lake— including the Jenny Lake visitor center, ranger station, public comfort station, store, campground, and Jenny Lake boating facilities—will not open until Thursday, May 22, 2008. This change from the previously announced schedule is due to a lingering, substantial snowpack (three to four feet deep) as well as freezing overnight temperatures that may affect water pipes. All trails in the south Jenny Lake area are snow-covered and icy, including pathways to and from the lakeshore and around the buildings. Trails on the west shore of Jenny Lake are buried under eight to ten feet of snow. Foot travel will be difficult, so hiking is not recommended at this time.

Public campsites will be available at Gros Ventre and Signal Mountain campgrounds starting Friday, May 9; however, due to considerable snow cover, Signal Mountain campground is limited to self-contained RV sites only—tent sites, grills and picnic tables are still buried under several feet of snow. The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center is open year-round; the Colter Bay Visitor Center will open on Saturday, May 10 as planned.

The gravel parking lot for the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve is partially snow-covered and saturated with moisture; therefore, use of the parking lot will not be possible until the surface is clear of snow, dries, and hardens enough to support vehicles without being damaged. Weather conditions will determine the length of time required for this temporary restriction.

Although Moose-Wilson Road within Grand Teton National Park opened to vehicular traffic for the 2008 summer season on Thursday, May 1, motorists are advised to plan for a temporary travel closure on this road from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, May 23. The closure is necessary to prepare for and apply a dust abatement product to the gravel portion of the road from the Granite Canyon trailhead parking area for a distance of 1.5 miles north. This temporary closure precludes the ability to make a “through trip” on the Moose-Wilson Road. The roadwork schedule and closure may change or be delayed due to weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances.

The product used for dust abatement is a slurry of magnesium chloride. It is the same product used by Teton County to treat dirt roads in and around Jackson Hole. This product coats the road surface, but it can also adhere to the undercarriage of vehicles. Motorists who drive the Moose-Wilson Road after it reopens on Friday evening may want to rinse off their vehicles to eliminate any residue.

Local residents and park visitors are advised to make travel plans accordingly and detour away from the Moose-Wilson Road during the closure on Friday, May 23rd.

Grand Teton National Park Celebrates International Migratory Bird Day

May 6, 2008

Grand Teton National Park will celebrate International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) with a bird-watching caravan on Sunday, May 11, 2008. Park ranger naturalist Andrew Langford will visit birding hotspots throughout the park to locate, identify, and count birds as part of the North American Migration Count.The free activity begins at 8 a.m. in the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at Moose, Wyoming and finishes by 4 p.m. at Christian Pond near Jackson Lake Lodge. Park entrance stations are open and collecting fees; participants will need to present a park pass when passing through these stations.

Observed each year in May to celebrate and support bird conservation, IMBD serves as the hallmark outreach event for Partners in Flight—an international conservation program whose goal is to reverse declining populations of migratory birds by bringing attention to factors that may contribute to worldwide declines. Anyone interested in birds is welcome to participate in Grand Teton’s IMBD celebration and annual bird count. Reservations are not required. Throughout the day, participants will take short walks at various locations, so those attending should wear comfortable shoes and bring a lunch, drinking water, warm clothing and rain gear. Bird field guides, binoculars and spotting scopes are also recommended.

According to the IMBD Web site, the theme for 2008 is “Tundra to Tropics: Connecting Birds, Habitat and People.” This theme focuses on the long distances that migratory birds travel between breeding and non-breeding sites throughout the Western Hemisphere. It also highlights the birds that make these fantastic journeys, and explores the habitats on which they depend and what those habitats provide. Additionally, the 2008 theme draws attention to the people who are important to conservation of birds and their habitats.

Nearly 350 North American migratory bird species travel each year between their nesting grounds in North America and non-breeding habitats in South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the southern United States; these include such familiar birds as ospreys, peregrine falcons, warblers and thrushes. Each spring, many of the same birds return to northwestern Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park where they find critical food resources and nesting sites during the summer season. Besides providing enjoyment for bird watchers around the world, migratory birds contribute to local, regional and world economies by controlling insect pests and generating billions in recreational dollars. Unfortunately, research indicates that many migratory bird species are in decline and facing increased threats on their migration routes and within their summer and winter habitats.

For more information about International Migratory Bird Day and the North American Migration Count, please call the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at 307.739.3399.