by Chelsea DeWeese
An eagle soars eye-level on a snowy November evening, the gold-and-white foothills of Mount Everts rolling in the distance. Adjacent to a snowy peak, steam rises from the Mammoth Terraces. Light reflects off the ground as the sun descends behind the Gallatin Mountains. In springtime the frozen ground gives way to green grass, blue sagebrush, and multi-colored wildflowers. This view—and the property’s prime location at the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park—define Yellowstone Forever’s north entrance residential learning facility: Yellowstone Overlook Kendeda Field Campus.
Like its vista, the history of the Yellowstone overlook campus is expansive. In 2009 Yellowstone Forever’s predecessor, the Yellowstone Association, purchased the 80-acre property during a capital campaign called “Legacy for Learning.” Overlook opened the following year as an educational campus and has been in operation ever since. Three cabins are available to those taking classes, and a fourth houses volunteer caretakers. Additional highlights include a manmade lake, campfire ring, and access to the Yellowstone River Trail.
While other locations were considered for a residential property, according to Dennis McIntosh, Yellowstone Forever’s director of sustainability and facilities, Overlook won because of its location: a mere 5-minute drive from the conveniences of Gardiner, Montana, with direct access to the national park and national forest. The location and views are “what made it most intriguing to us in terms of purchasing it,” he says, adding this is a winning combination for students and other educational organizations.
Currently Overlook is used mostly by school groups working in conjunction with Yellowstone Forever field instructors. Field Seminars are also housed at the campus—when they aren’t held at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch inside Yellowstone—along with a month-long interpretive guide training, private tours, teacher workshops, and specialty charters. With the expansion of Yellowstone Forever’s Citizen Science Initiative, Overlook is also becoming an important base for those traveling from Bozeman and beyond to collect important data for the National Park Service.
One project, which NPS biologist Erik Oberg oversees, documents plant phenology, insect trends, and other Yellowstone climate data twice a month and requires a certain degree of specialization when it comes to key volunteers. “[Overlook] allows Bozeman-based volunteers to eliminate long drive times back and forth and focus on helping with all aspects of the phenology project,” Oberg says. According to Field Campus Manager Katie Roloson, as Yellowstone Forever moves forward with Yellowstone National Park on a new youth campus near Mammoth Hot Springs, the Overlook campus may serve increasingly different demographics in the future. For example, Overlook could see fewer middle- and high-school students but an increase in those college-aged and older—including citizen scientist volunteers. “I could see [Yellowstone Forever] beginning to use the Overlook campus for more diverse uses,” Roloson says.
One such group is Central Wyoming College, based out of Lander, Wyoming. Professor Jacki Klancher has been bringing students to the Overlook campus every November since 2014 and plans to expand to two courses in 2019. The students, most of whom study environmental sciences or outdoor recreation, engage in field-based activities with Yellowstone Forever instructors during the day and stay at Overlook at night. Students plan and prepare meals, clean up after themselves, and decide who stays in which cabin; two cabins at Overlook sleep up to 12 and a third cabin sleeps five. Klancher says the group living is good practice, especially for students considering a career in outdoor recreation. “I want to use that conversation as an extension of group and individual leadership.”
The location is also important, says Owen Carroll, the Yellowstone Forever lead instructor who typically works with Klancher’s students. He says Overlook helps students stay engaged with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE)—the area surrounding Yellowstone—which they are studying. “Even though you’re not in the park per se, the sense of wildness continues,” he says.
In preparation for the arrival of Central Wyoming College last November, Nancy Andrew, a retired California wildlife biologist, cleaned cabins, readied the property, and introduced the new arrivals. Andrew joined Yellowstone Forever as a supporter in 2015. She received an email from a friend suggesting she become a volunteer and now she spends time at both Overlook and Lamar Buffalo Ranch. She is one of many volunteers—some new, some returning—who help keep operations running. In her free time at Overlook, Andrew likes to observe the park’s mammals through her cabin window, both up close and through a long-distance spotting scope. She’s particularly intrigued by bighorn sheep, a subspecies of which she studied in California. “It’s really a special place that’s only two miles from a town but has the sense of being in the wilderness,” Andrew says, “How could you not be inspired by this place?”
Yellowstone Overlook Kendeda Field Campus is made possible by generous donations by the Kendeda Fund and others. Learn more here or call 406.848.2400.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of Yellowstone Quarterly.