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'Yellowstone Summit' Delivers Magic Of Yellowstone Up Close And Personal
February 12, 2023
'Yellowstone Summit' Delivers Magic Of Yellowstone Up Close And Personal
Wolves, grizzlies, bison, fine art, indigenous history, exploration tips and Bob Landis footage part of stellar virtual lineup Feb. 23-26
Loving Yellowstone and paying it forward: The 2023 Yellowstone Summit, an online event, has offerings that speak to every passion point among people who love our first national park. Photo courtesy Jenny Golding/George Bumann
By Mountain Journal
Fact: you wouldn’t be reading these words if you don’t sometimes dream of going to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone ranks high on the wish list of nature preserves people want to see in their lifetimes. It is, as National Geographic magazine proclaimed in its 2016 special edition, “the beating heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”
Today, for millions upon millions of Yellowstone fans around the world, the thrilling news is you don’t actually have to visit to become inspired. Through the 2023 Yellowstone Summit, you can, from the comfort of your own home, beam in virtually and experience the inspiring words and images of scientists, artists and big picture thinkers devoted to Yellowstone’s protection and stewardship.
for a value-added $59 VIP pass you'll have access to all presentations plus enjoy exclusive discounts and giveaways, live Q & A sessions, podcast feed, bonus lessons on how to see wildlife or engage your creativity as an artist, and more. It is literally a virtual Yellowstone lollapalooza for the mind and heart. If you have questions about Yellowstone, the experts will be able to answer them.
Mountain Journal is a proud participant and we’re happy to say our voice has been included in a lineup that features 30 people who will be delivering talks and participating in discussions, suitable for people of all ages, that you won’t forget.
You’ll hear provocative stories from Yellowstone wolf legends Doug Smith and Rick McIntyre, talks about grizzly bears and bison, the longtime and never-ceasing indigenous connections to the ecosystem from the perspective of Francesca Pine-Rodriguez (Crow/Northern Cheyenne), Lee Whiteplume (Nez Perce) and Josh Mann (Eastern Shoshone), riffs on the creative process from noted painters and photographers, get tips for better wildlife watching and safe hiking, insight on the geology of Yellowstone Lake and the link between archaeology and climate change research. And much more, including an overview of issues shaping Greater Yellowstone by MoJo founder Todd Wilkinson.
Think of the Yellowstone Summit as a virtual Yellowstone lollapalooza for the mind and heart offering multiple windows into how you can express your love for America's first national park
With a VIP pass, you’ll be treated to a special treat: being among the first to see unpublished footage (recently accepted by National Geographic for a new film) of white alpha female wolf footage with noted cinematographer Bob Landis, followed by a Q&A.
Recently, we interviewed the dynamic wife-husband artist founders of the Yellowstone Summit which is happening from February 23-26.
Yellowstone Summit founders Jenny Golding and George Bumann. Like MoJo, Golding and Bumann believe the best way to celebrate Yellowstone is by first igniting human inspiration and then follow it up with tips on how people can express their love for the park, enjoy it responsibly and embrace advocacy as a way of giving back. Photo courtesy Golding/Bumann
Todd Wilkinson for Mountain Journal: How did the idea for the Yellowstone Summit originate and what is its purpose?
Jenny Golding: In the 20 years we’ve been educating visitors in Yellowstone–George speaking and teaching for many of the leading organizations, museums, agencies, and concessions operators in the region, and my history previously directing the full scope of instructors and topics for field seminars for the Yellowstone Institute—we’ve had the extraordinary privilege to learn from and see the park through the eyes of some pretty incredible people. The human connections we’ve experienced with leading researchers, poets, ranchers, park officials, authors, artists, tribal members, seasonal concessions employees, journalists, local residents, thousands of our own students, and many others have inspired our own deep connection to Yellowstone; an experience we felt should be shared with a broader audience.
TW: It’s winter and fans of Yellowstone are dispersed. How do you connect with people who can’t be here?
Golding: Knowing that many people do not have the time, means, or insider access to connect on this deeper level, our vision was to bring this unparalleled level of world-class Yellowstone knowledge and connection to a virtual format that is affordable, and available to anyone, anywhere. As artists, storytellers, scientists and active park visitors ourselves, we wanted to expand the scope beyond resource and policy updates to include arts, culture, diverse perspectives, and ways to experience the park in new (and better) ways. Most importantly, we wanted to create an experience that builds community, where people can not only deepen their understanding of the park but engage in meaningful conversations with speakers and with each other about the past, present, and future of Yellowstone. Finally, it’s just incredibly fun!
"As artists, storytellers, scientists and active park visitors ourselves, we wanted to expand the scope beyond resource and policy updates to include arts, culture, diverse perspectives, and ways to experience the park in new (and better) ways. Most importantly, we wanted to create an experience that builds community, where people can not only deepen their understanding of the park but engage in meaningful conversations." —Jenny Golding, co-founder of the Yellowstone Summit
TW: How did you get here and how did Yellowstone enter into your hearts?
George Bumann: I jokingly say that Jenny drug me here. Any place with some woods, water and trees would have suited my fancy, but after backpacking here on our honeymoon—following on the heels of an ill-fated mountain biking/fly fishing trip down the spine of the Rocky mountains–I found that I liked this place quite well. Ready to move on from her job coordinating outdoor programs and volunteers at Virginia Tech, Jenny applied to the Institute for the position managing the Buffalo Ranch in Lamar Valley. She was hired for the position and I joined the equation on the heels of finishing my Master's degree in ecology, as an educator for the park’s nonprofit.
Golding: I first came to Yellowstone in 1997 to coordinate citizen science programs for Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies. I lived for a summer in Cooke City watching wildlife in Lamar and hiking in the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness. I had traveled all over the west, but after that summer I was hook, line, and sinker in love with Greater Yellowstone. On our honeymoon we had traveled through Yellowstone and met the director of the Yellowstone Institute, who ultimately hired me to develop new volunteer and risk management programs for Institute field seminars. We spent our first anniversary overlooking Yellowstone Lake, eating the top of the wedding cake we’d carried in a cooler in the back of the U-Haul we’d driven across the country and through the east entrance (the year old cake was terrible!) to begin our new life in Yellowstone.
A grizzly bear in Yellowstone: what does the reflection of wild nature say about us? How do we approach the places we love with respect? Photo courtesy Golding/Bumann
TW: Do you think differently about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem today than when you arrived?
Bumann: I think of the way I see the greater Yellowstone ecosystem now as a contrast between a postcard and a relationship. Early on, my view of this place was entirely at face value; it was about what lay on the surface—mountains, sunsets, pristine waters, charismatic wildlife, and awe-inspiring geology, etcetera. What I see now is the intermingling of roles and relationships, living and nonliving, community, human and nonhuman, the arc of the seasons and the passage of time. I still go back and try to imagine that first view of Blacktail Plateau that was so memorable and evoke a bit of that initial nostalgia. It is tough, but I really enjoy teaching because it helps bring me back to seeing much of the beauty that got me started through the eyes of those around me.
Golding: In the beginning I felt that Greater Yellowstone was endless; this vast wilderness with never-ending places to hike and explore, filled with a deep magic that I believe comes only from places that have an abundance of wild animals. Today, I know that perspective was both true and naive, and have come to see Greater Yellowstone as an island in peril; the magic is still there but it comes with the weight of knowing how small this island really is in the face of the pressures surrounding it.
TW: We've witnessed profound changes in visitation, pressures building outside the park and events in Gardiner such as the flood, downtown fire and affordable housing challenges that have shaken the community. How is it weathering those and what do readers need to know about the town and its relationship to Yellowstone?
Bumann: Yellowstone is a focal point of extremes. With its beauty and majesty, it brings with it complexity and controversy. I have felt the mixed emotions when past students express gratitude for introducing them to this place that ultimately led to them moving here. My consternation is rooted in the fact that there are not two, three or seventeen sides to this Yellowstone coin, but many more.
Some may have moved here in the warmth of summer, not realizing the harshness of winter. Some enjoy the free-roaming wildlife but are unprepared for what to do when an elk explodes the grill of their car and flails about broken and dying in the ditch. The lived challenges and obligations of this place are not advertised on billboards or in lifestyle magazines. Fine dining and elevated entertainment are almost nil, and for every great ski outing or backcountry hike, there are pipes freezing in winter with no plumber for an hour's drive in any direction.
"Yellowstone is a focal point of extremes. With its beauty and majesty, it brings with it complexity and controversy. I have felt the mixed emotions when past students express gratitude for introducing them to this place that ultimately led to them moving here. My consternation is rooted in the fact that there are not two, three or seventeen sides to this Yellowstone coin, but many more." —George Bumann, co-founder of the Yellowstone Summit
TW: What's it like living and trying to raise a family in Gardiner, the original 19th century Yellowstone gateway town?
Bumann: Of the millions that pass through our tiny town of less than a thousand, we are part of a dwindling year-round population. Skyrocketing rent, astronomical real estate prices, and proliferating short-term rentals—driven by the heedless effects of the free market and a steadfast refusal to incorporate as a town—have deepened the challenges. When human, as well as ecological communities lose their residents, they cease to function. Our son’s 7th grade class, one of the biggest in the school, totals 14 kids; overall the school has experienced a 43 percent decline in the last 10 years. These are just a few of the stark realities of living in a place that is a global focal point and yet, is unquestionably local, and rural.
TW: That’s a compelling paradox. Visitation to the national parks is the bread and butter of gateway communities and yet these days there is a sense of locals feeling overwhelmed or displaced or even that kids who grew up on the edge of the park cannot, as adults, afford to come back an be a part of the community where they planted roots.
Bumann: What I can say with a high degree of certainty is that living in a Yellowstone gateway town has shown me the power of individual people to make a difference. The contributions of even a few can greatly move the needle towards the positive. When our kids’ school was threatened by a loss of funding, a group of us parents banded together to help. We raised funds for classroom grants, mental health and wellness programming, and purchased and renovated a historic building to secure teacher housing for the future (through what is now the North Yellowstone Education Foundation (NYEF) nonprofit). I think of Gardiner as being a microcosm of what our nation should be. Here, you have to figure out how to get along—the frozen food aisle is only so big in the Gardiner Market and no one can hide from our current realities.
TW: A spirit of cooperation and humility as antidote for division?
Bumann: Why are we able to come together? Because it might be your car that's in the ditch tomorrow and the one that shows up offering help is the one you stood on opposite sides of the public meeting with about wolf hunting or short term rentals. Getting along goes beyond self-interest. What all of us share is a deep passion for Yellowstone Country, and that must be important common ground as we journey into the future.
TW: The two of you use your art—sculpture and photography—to the way you relate to nature. Tell us about that and how it allows you to relate to a lot of people who interpret their experience in Yellowstone through the lenses of their cameras and cell phones?
Bumann: Art is the vehicle through which we tell the stories that are most in need of telling. As the late Montana sculptor Floyd DeWitt often said, “art should be a celebration of awe.” I find that my art allows me to see many layers further into the world around me. Where I or a park visitor may snap a photograph and move on, we both lose the opportunity to see the subject and ourselves in relation to the whole. By sitting on the roadside for hours with a lump of clay, not only do I become supremely attuned to the effects of light and form, but the passage of the day, the nature of the wind and the scent of the plants around me. Slowing down with art offers a chance to become enveloped in a place and enraptured with a state of being. Art forces us to commit. While being burned by the sun, pounded by rain or hail, or frozen by the cold we move forward with a new outlook.
Golding: When I photograph, I’m trying to capture how the moment made me feel, and inspire others to slow down, pay attention, go deeper. My goal isn’t just to take pictures, it’s to share them along with story and text that hopefully encourages others to open the door to a deeper relationship with the land, and to learn to truly “see” what they’re looking at.
"What I can say with a high degree of certainty is that living in a Yellowstone gateway town has shown me the power of individual people to make a difference. The contributions of even a few can greatly move the needle towards the positive." —George Bumann
TW: What would you say are the major issues on your radar screen at this year's Summit?
Golding: The summit is designed to celebrate the love of Yellowstone that we all share, but also to go beyond that to build a community of people connecting to the park–and each other–on a deeper level. We’d like to open the door to conversations about diverse visions for the future of the park, from how to address the critical pressures facing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, to co-creating a future for the park that includes Indigenous voices.
For us, two things are key to this vision: fostering deeper individual connections to the park through new ways of knowing and doing and cultivating community. I believe that education on its own does not move people to action as much as feeling personally invested, and a part of a larger community that you can play an active role in.
For generations, the place, idea and promise of Yellowstone has hovered in the psyche of Americans. Yellowstone belongs to everyone and with that truth comes a responsibility that the defense of protecting wild Yellowstone also belongs to all citizens. Wildlife needs the voice of everyone. Photo courtesy Jenny Golding/George Bumann
TW: Social media: what are the benefits and what are the downsides and what do we need to do better?
Bumann: For better or worse, social media is where a lot of our audience is, and that comes with great responsibility. I personally have difficulty teaching and speaking for online audiences. I learn, and feel I relate best, when in the direct presence of other people. Algorithms make for awful audiences which is why I’m grateful for Jenny who helps us use the social media platform for the powers of good. Many locations and opportunities have been utterly destroyed by the all-seeing eye of social media, but like any tool, it is a tool to be used for whatever we choose.
TW: What’s the upside?
Bumann: Using social media responsibly to connect with your community requires balancing on a fine line between sharing the things that people get really excited about (bears, wolves, pretty landscapes)—without driving crowds to sensitive wildlife or locations–and inspiring folks to do better. For us that means slowing down, paying attention, and treading softly.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should post about your plate of baked haddock and glazed brussels or that new bird nest you just found on a hike in the national forest. Riffing off an old carpenter’s saying, "think twice, post once… or maybe not at all."
TW: Do you think that visitors and even people in the region fully understand just how special Yellowstone and Greater Yellowstone are in the world?
Bumann: No, no I don't think people really appreciate how special Yellowstone is. I don't think most people even appreciate how special their own backyard is, much less a place way up in the Rocky Mountains. Understanding the value of something is underpinned by being in relationship to it. In my view, the conservation movement, on the whole, has missed the mark by trying to base caring for the land on loftier ethical or financial grounds. We need to care for the land from an informed, emotional, and very personal perspective. For all the people who do love Yellowstone, I don’t think they truly grasp how fragile the future is; and how critical it is to get involved to protect what we cherish so much.
TW: We’re so pleased to have friends and collaborators like you. Why do you like reading MoJo?
Golding: MoJo so honestly captures what we love about Greater Yellowstone while also asking us to focus the lens on ourselves and think about how our actions are impacting the present and future of Greater Yellowstone. MoJo does not shy away from the hard questions, something not enough people seem willing to do. I love reading MoJo articles because they’re such a wonderful combination of inspiration, celebration, and unflinchingly holding the community to task. Outstanding–and critical–work!
TW: Heartfelt thanks. Helping people experience an awakening takes many forms and part of that is realizing the reality of change and making course corrections to prevent irreversible negative change from happening. What you’re doing with Yellowstone Summit is so important and it’s an incredible value for all the inspiration you are delivering. Four days of learning for less than the cost of a movie ticket! Okay, last question: How does someone find more info about the Yellowstone Summit?
Golding: The Yellowstone Summit is a 4-day online event for Yellowstone lovers to get park updates, find tips for planning a trip, learn new skills to enhance park experiences, and connect with the Yellowstone community.
From February 23-26, 2023, we're bringing together over 30 Yellowstone experts—from researchers and historians to local naturalist guides, photographers, authors, and artists—who will help you learn, connect, engage, and celebrate a shared love of Yellowstone. General admission tickets are only $12, and you can register at www.yellowstonesummit.com
"In the beginning I felt that Greater Yellowstone was endless; this vast wilderness with never-ending places to hike and explore, filled with a deep magic that I believe comes only from places that have an abundance of wild animals. Today, I know that perspective was both true and naive, and have come to see Greater Yellowstone as an island in peril; the magic is still there but it comes with the weight of knowing how small this island really is in the face of the pressures surrounding it." —Jenny Golding