Planners aim to attract Obama to Yellowstone for 2016 visit

President Barack Obama awaits the eruption of Old Faithful with First Lady Micelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia during a 2009 visit to Yellowstone National Park.

White House photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama awaits the eruption of Old Faithful with First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia during a 2009 visit to Yellowstone National Park.

President Barack Obama has had a busy week, making headlines and sparking discussions on a wide range of issues in what may well turn out to be the most defining few days of his presidency.

He delivered a heartfelt eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor and state senator gunned down along with eight others in a Charleston, S.C. church. He chatted by phone on live TV with Jim Obergefell, a prevailing plaintiff in the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. He even found a way to cooperate with congressional Republicans on an international trade deal.

The week’s events showed that even a lame duck president with a 45 percent approval rating who has long since lost once-solid majorities in Congress can still command the nation’s attention.

It also explains why many in the Yellowstone National Park gateway town of Gardiner, Mont. are working hard to attract Obama as a featured guest for next summer’s celebration of the National Park Service centennial.

“We’ve been aiming high for a couple of years,” said Bill Berg, a key planner with the Gardiner Gateway Project, an ambitious, multi-agency partnership that aims to reconfigure Yellowstone’s North Gate and make numerous improvements in Gardiner aimed at better serving park visitors.

A presidential visit would help focus attention on Yellowstone and the rest of America’s national parks, and would highlight the significance of the work being done in the unincorporated town of Gardiner, he said.

Berg has been among those leading the effort to lure Obama to Gardiner for a ceremony planned for Aug. 25, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Park Service.

“Gardiner is still the only event on the National Park Service calendar for the 25th of August” next year, Berg said.

“Beyond our ambitions to get the president here, we want that day to be much more than a ribbon-cutting for the Gateway Project, and for it to even go beyond the Centennial,” Berg said. “It’s something to kick off the second century of the National Park Service, and celebrate how Yellowstone is the inspiration for this entire system built for the ‘benefit and enjoyment of the people.’”

Berg said that Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk has spent time in Washington, D.C. meeting with Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis to discuss plans for next year’s centennial celebration in Gardiner.

“But regardless of whether the president makes it, we’ll have a big event here in Gardiner on that day,” Berg said.

Yellowstone historian Lee Whittlesey said he is not optimistic that Obama will make the trip.

“It will be near the end of Obama’s term in an election year,” Whittlesey said. “So my guess is he’s going to be far too busy to do that.”

President Theodore Roosevelt visited Gardiner in 1903 to help lay the cornerstone in the gateway arch that bears his name. That trip was primarily a personal vacation to the park, which is the more common reason for a presidential trip to Yellowstone than one for official functions, Whittlesey said.

Obama may also be less likely to visit next year, Whittlesey said, because the president and his family have already been to Yellowstone. They toured the park during a 2009 summer vacation, complete with a viewing of Old Faithful’s eruption and a stop for ice cream at the Hamilton Store.

But just as so many people are happy to have any excuse to return to Yellowstone—Bill Clinton visited the park twice while president—Obama could end up returning next year.

“You never know,” Whittlesey said. “It could go either way.”

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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