Employees who have called the park home for decades tell all.
A memorable place to visit, Yellowstone National Park makes even more of an impression when it becomes your home. A big plus of working at Yellowstone — whether for a summer or a year — is that the geysers and hot springs as well as the bison, bighorn sheep, and wolf packs become part of your backyard. It’s something that happens more often than you might think: people come to work in Yellowstone for a summer season, underestimating just how much it’s going to change their lives, and it becomes home. They build their careers, lives, and families here. So what are the other perks and privileges of becoming part of the staff at Yellowstone? Employees who have called the park home for decades tell all.
The Joys—and Surprises—Of Working at Yellowstone
LESLIE JAMES QUINN started working at Yellowstone in 1980 as a tour bus driver. During his 36 years at the park he has also served as a snowcoach driver, dispatcher, and Interpretive Specialist and Transportation Manager of Training & Standards for Xanterra, his current position. Leslie trains the drivers to be tour guides. And since his first summer in 1980, Quinn has called the park his home, and worked all these years with Yellowstone’s transportation department. He and his wife met here, and have both worked in the park for many years. His wife Ruth Quinn (see below) has worked at Yellowstone since 1990.Why did you decide to work at Yellowstone?In the days when I was hired, Yellowstone used to recruit summer bus drivers from several college campuses around the country that had transit bus systems driven by the students. A fellow driver at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, recruited me. It sounded interesting and potentially fun, so I applied. I had never been west of Ohio before.What’s been the biggest bonus of your job at Yellowstone?Helping those we hire find the voice for their passion about Yellowstone, so they can infect park visitors with that passion and excitement about the world’s first, and best, national park.What are some of the surprises of your job?Interpretation is the art of taking a body of knowledge about a place and transforming it into comments that are interesting, fun, and inspiring to hear. It’s a gift a few are born with and the rest of us spend a lot of years learning to do. The ways that park guides devise to creatively interpret the various features and issues here is a never-ending source of surprise for me. One guide, for example, in explaining that we treat fire as a natural event says that in the past people had an “arrogance of caring.” That’s an incredibly profound way to explain that we don’t need to help nature along by “fixing” things like fires.What is your biggest challenge?I think I can especially help the new guides find their interpretive voices and their “inner Elvis” to express it all. I like working with people and being a tour guide, so when I have to review the new guides — and we have about 45 of them a season — I need to sit in the back of the bus and just listen day after day. That is my biggest challenge.How has working at Yellowstone changed you?For this native Cape Codder, Yellowstone has proven to me that there can be beautiful places in the world even if they don’t have an ocean.What advice would you give people thinking of working at Yellowstone?We live in dormitories and we eat meals in the cafeteria. You have to be open to try new things.RUTH QUINN, Leslie Quinn’s wife, came to Yellowstone in 1990 as a mid-season replacement for a guest services agent at Lake Yellowstone Hotel. During her 26 years at the park, she has served as an activity sales agent, step-on tour guide, housekeeping room attendant, housekeeping office assistant, housekeeping inspector, and a food & beverage office assistant. In summer, Ruth works as an Old Faithful Inn interpreter and in winter she is a human resources staff assistant.Why did you decide to work at Yellowstone?I had always lived in a city, and I was looking for a change from the constant noise and the daily commuting.What’s been the biggest bonus of your job at Yellowstone?Working here both summers and winters has given me the opportunity to experience Yellowstone in all seasons. I enjoy anticipating the cyclical changes — openings and closings of hotels, wildlife babies, wildflowers, snow. Even the longer cycles like the regrowth of the forests after the fires of 1988. I came right after that, so I’ve seen subtle and dramatic changes. A visitor here for a few days never experiences all of that.What are some of the surprises of your job?Children’s questions can be some of the most fun because of the way they think and their desire to participate. One child asked me, “How many trees did they use to build the inn?” The answer: 10,000 lodgepole pine trees. Questions from guests are what keep me learning more.What is your biggest challenge?I conduct tours in a very crowded National Historic Landmark (Old Faithful Inn). Increased visitation means our tour sizes are bigger. Managing large groups is a challenge, especially after Old Faithful erupts and the outside crowds come inside. It’s exciting that so many people wish to see and experience the building, but it’s also challenging.How has working at Yellowstone changed you?I am very content to be away from the pressures of achieving and accumulating. Hiking challenges me and gives me a sense of mastery, and I accumulate moments and memories.What advice would you give people thinking of working at Yellowstone?Don’t hesitate. Just do it. It will be a summer you won’t forget. It’s easy to make friends. We work together, we live together, we eat together. Working here you are part of a community, instead of just going back and forth to work each day.DALE FOWLER started work at Yellowstone in 1975 as a wrangler. During his 41 years at Yellowstone, in addition to wrangling, he has been a snowcoach driver, dishwasher, maintenance worker and winter keeper. Currently, he is the maintenance manager at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel.Why did you decide to work at Yellowstone?My brother came here three years before me as a ranger. He told me that it was a fun place to work.What’s been the biggest bonus of your job at Yellowstone?I grew up in Arkansas. I like working and living in Yellowstone. It’s beautiful here. Yellowstone has animals, thermals, mountains, hiking, and fishing. I don’t like the humidity in the South. Yellowstone also has four distinct seasons.What are some of the surprises of your job?I came here when I was 24. I had worked outside Little Rock. But when I came here, I met people from all over the country. We lived and worked together and became good friends.What is your biggest challenge?In many ways Yellowstone is a seasonal operation. The Lake Yellowstone Hotel is open from mid-May to mid-October. Some people do come back year after year, but you always have to hire new people each year and keep them all summer. For some young people, working at Yellowstone may be too much.How has working at Yellowstone changed you?It probably made me a “tree hugger,” like most everybody here. I have become environmentally minded.What advice would you give people thinking of working at Yellowstone?I would encourage anybody to do it. It’s a very pretty area. For the most part, the staff is 30 and under or retired from a career and 60 and older. There are a lot of good people here and there’s a lot of good fun to be had.Starting a career in Yellowstone can open many doors in the hospitality, food and beverage, and transportation industry, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.Beth Casey is proof of that. Casey began working seasonally in housekeeping at the Old Faithful Lodge in 1981, and continued to advance with multiple promotions as she went along.Casey, previously a philosophy major at Brevard College in North Carolina, said it only took that one summer to really change her mind on what career she wanted to focus on. Casey served as Xanterra’s Yellowstone director of human resources; a role she had for 19 years. She has built and lived a happy life here, including raising a daughter in the area, and said she is now enjoying her retirement and the next chapter of her story.Yet another example of a successful park career is Bret De Young, who currently serves as chief of technology branch for the National Park Service (NPS) in Yellowstone.“I was a room attendant in 1989 for Lake Lodge,” said De Young fondly recalling the beginning of his Yellowstone career. “It’s the best place; I begged them not to send me anywhere else.”Having just graduated from Purdue University School of Technology, he faced the challenge of finding a job in the midst of a recession. A friend had convinced him that working in Yellowstone temporarily until he could find a career in his field.“I never intended to come for a long time; it just kind of happened and I would have never considered a career in Yellowstone had I not come out for that first season,” De Young revealed.He returned for several years, traveling with the woman who would eventually become his wife, starting in 1992, and continuously worked his way up through the ranks. Now De Young happily serves the park with the NPS.“I didn’t know cleaning rooms would be a [career] pathway,” De Young quipped. “I could not be happier with how it all turned out. All those years with the concessioner and 10 years with the Park Service, I feel like it’s more of a bigger community for me; I have lots of friends now and it’s so fun.”Adding a Yellowstone job to any résumé can provide a huge benefit as well. Just ask Trina Smith, who began working in Yellowstone as a seasonal intern and eventually moved out of the park to become a Guest Operations Manager at B-Bar Ranch. (B-Bar Ranch is a working cattle ranch which features a guest operation located in Emigrant, Montana.)“My first summer was in 1998 and I was a reservations agent,” Smith said. “I have a degree in hospitality management, and I came as part of an internship for my schooling. At the time, Yellowstone didn’t have an internship program per se, but I was able to meet my school’s requirements through the kind of things that I did.”After her first summer ended, she knew she needed to return to further experience the park.“At the ripe age of 22, I got the management job at Roosevelt Lodge,” Smith elaborated.Smith would then go on to be a general manager at other Xanterra locations in Utah, and credits her time with the company as having built her career.“I like to say that Xanterra changed my diaper so to speak professionally,” Smith laughed. “My time with Xanterra is what made me the person I am today professionally and definitely helped me get to where I am.”Yellowstone can be a rough lifestyle adjustment for anyone who comes to work in the park, and sometimes it’s not the best fit. Casey said her first season in the park was “challenging,” but growing to love the place that would become her home was easy, with friends and special experiences to help her along.“Until we connect either with other people or to the park itself, it’s not very significant,” Casey explained. “But as soon as that happens, whether it’s meeting that one good friend or having an incredible backcountry (or overnight camping) experience, or seeing your first baby bison; I think it takes some kind of connection for you to really say, ‘okay, this is where I wanna be.’” Yellowstone Careers Join us as we#RoamFromHomeand share our world of unforgettable experiences with you on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.