Dick Ferguson began annual summer visits to Yellowstone with his parents in 1944.
In the 1950s and ’60s he drove a park bus and was the social director for employees. That is where he met his wife, Jean. Later he was a seasonal ranger in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, a job that extended into the 1970s and ’80s.
Dick has written a book about his recollections of his Yellowstone life. His memories of the region span 80 years. “Yellowstone Stories” can be purchased at Jackson Hole Book Trader. What follows is one of the many tales in the book.
“At two places in the Park there were feeding grounds for bear. About 8 at night at Canyon there would be 100 or more cars lined up along the Yellowstone River waiting to go to Otter Creek feed ground.
“They would open up the gate and the cars would file in and park in a huge area. There was a hill to the left side and there were stairs going up the hill, and you had to go through a gate because a fence went on both sides of the walk about 30 yards or more. You could get inside this cage in an amphitheater, seats and everything. You would wait for the bears to come.
“Down in front about 40 yards away was a cement platform. You would sit there and look at a grassy hill with woods around and about a foot and a half of garbage on this cement platform about the size of a volleyball court.
“All of a sudden someone would say, ‘There’s one!’ And out of the trees a grizzly would come, then another one and another one. They kept coming out of the hills.
“There was one black bear that was as big as any of the grizzlies and it was the only black bear that dared to come to the feed ground. He would come fairly early and walk out on the garbage and lie down. All evening he would eat the garbage out from underneath his chest, and then he would scrunch back a little more and eat more from underneath himself. He was protecting this huge amount of garbage just for himself.
“Once in a while a young male would get too close to a cub or something and the mother would chase the male. In fact, when my folks first came to the Park there was an embankment that was about 12 feet high, but no fence to protect you from the bears. One bear stepped on or slapped a cub and the mother took off after it, and it ran right up through the whole crowd of people who were screaming and running to get away from the bears. The two bears just went right on through and out the other side.
“Another thing that happened was that we were walking up and a ranger was guarding the gate. He had a rifle, a 1906 Springfield, which was a World War I rifle used by the United States. Dad asked him if he was a good shot and the guy very quietly leaned over and said, ‘They don’t even give us any ammunition; it’s not even loaded.’ That didn’t make us feel too protected.
“The biggest night that we had, which we counted from a photograph, there were 66 grizzlies at that feed ground. It was amazing.”
Bear dinner service ends
The bear feeding sites were one big publicity stunt for the park. Besides injury, bear feeding led to property damage, with bears clawing cars and tearing down fences in search of grub. According to the Yellowstone Park Foundation, between 1931 and 1969 the park saw an average of 48 bear-related injuries to visitors and over 100 cases of property damage. It was not until 1970 that Yellowstone prohibited visitors from feeding bears and set up bear-proof garbage containers. That is when bear feeding came to a full stop.
Crabtrees head to Idaho
Jeff and Lana Crabtree have sold their home and purchased a house in Island Park, Idaho. They intend to travel this winter and then spend summers in their Idaho home. They will be spending more time with their children and grandchildren.
Jeff started Skinny Skis in 1974 with his friend Owen Anderson. He also sat on the Town Council from 1992 to 1995 and served as mayor. Lana has volunteered for several nonprofits in the valley.
Jeff, a 1969 graduate of Jackson-Wilson High School, told me the other day he has never lived anywhere but Jackson except for his college years at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Jackson Hole will miss you both.
Oktoberfest for seniors
This is a favorite annual event co-sponsored by the Senior Center of Jackson Hole and Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation.
Oktoberfest starts at 6 p.m. Oct. 14. The Jackson Hole Community Band will play polka music, and dinner will feature a German-inspired menu.
The suggested donation for those 60 years and older is $6; younger people will be charged $15. Please RSVP at 733-7300. Prost!