By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — When NBC’s “Today” broadcasts a live, 3-hour morning show from Yellowstone National Park on Tuesday, millions of viewers around the country will get a chance to learn about grizzly bears and geysers, gray wolves and wilderness survival.
The production will require a crew of approximately 70 people, with extensive equipment stationed around Old Faithful. But park managers are pleased at the chance to share information about Yellowstone’s resources and issues with a viewership that includes many who might never get a chance to visit in person.
“This is a great opportunity for us to reach some people who may have a limited understanding of this iconic place, and of our ongoing efforts to keep Yellowstone special,” park spokesman Al Nash said.
Even some of those who have spent most of their lives working in or near Yellowstone would admit to having what Nash politely calls “a limited understanding” of the park’s 2.2 million acres of dynamic landscape shaped by geology, weather and wildlife.
And like many “Today” viewers, some of the show’s anchors have either never visited Yellowstone, or done so only briefly, and years ago.
“About 10 years ago, I went on a fly fishing trip there and was stunned by the beauty of the place,” said Willie Geist, who is a co-host on “Today’s” 9 a.m. hour as well as on MNSBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Geist and “Today” co-host and weather anchor Al Roker spoke by phone Thursday to discuss their 5-day trip across the country next week to visit Yellowstone and other summer vacation destinations, including Hawaii, Chicago, Orlando, Fla. and the Jersey Shore.
Geist returned to Yellowstone earlier this month for a day to shoot a segment where he searched for grizzly bears with Casey Anderson, founder of Montana Grizzly Encounter, a Bozeman bear rescue and education facility.
“You know, part of you is hoping you won’t see a grizzly bear, but we did, so it will be much better for the piece,” which will air Tuesday, he said. “We saw three.”
Roker, who has never been to Yellowstone, said he had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast for Old Faithful, which calls for an overnight low on Monday of 27 degrees.
“It’s going to be, obviously, chilly in Yellowstone, but it’s going to be fun,” he said. “It’s going to be brisk.”
The trip schedule won’t allow for much geyser-gazing or wolf-watching, Roker said, and bringing the family is not a good idea.
“This is work. As it is, it’s going to be a major undertaking to transport the entire ‘Today’ show into five really diverse locations,” he said. “As much as it sounds like a great time, it’s kind of hard to do the show and have your kids in tow.”
“We finish, get on a plane and fly out,” Roker said.
Roker should hope his pilot pays closer attention to Yellowstone’s location on a map than he has.
The two co-hosts gamely agreed to a 5-question multiple-choice Yellowstone pop quiz, and both answered incorrectly when asked, “In which state is Yellowstone located?” Geist chose “almost entirely inside Montana,” while Roker picked “split about equally between Montana and Wyoming.” (Roughly 96 percent of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, while 3 percent is in Montana and 1 percent is in Idaho.)
Both co-hosts picked the right choice, “stand your ground,” for the most important question: “What should you do if a grizzly bear charges at you?”
“That’s a rule that sounds easy on paper,” Geist said. “But when they charge you, it becomes a little more difficult with an 800-pound grizzly bear.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].
How does your Yellowstone knowledge stack up against “Today” co-hosts Willie Geist and Al Roker? Take our quick, 5-question quiz and find out.
1: Which of these animals is not native to Yellowstone?
a) grizzly bear b) wolverine c) mountain goat d) Yellowstone cutthroat trout
Geist: b Roker: b Answer: c
2: What is the combined population of the five gateway towns around Yellowstone?
a) about 2,300 b) about 23,000 c) about 230,000 d) none of the above
Geist: b Roker: d Answer: b
3: What should you do if a grizzly bear charges you?
a) stop, drop and roll b) climb a tree c) run for cover d) stand your ground
Geist: d Roker: d Answer: d
4: Before the National Park Service was created in 1916, the wildlife and resources of Yellowstone were protected by:
a) U.S. Army b) Montana Stockgrowers Association c) Sierra Club d) U.S. Forest Service
Geist: d Roker: d Answer: a
5) Which state is Yellowstone located in?
a) almost entirely inside Montana b) almost entirely in Wyoming c) split about equally between Montana and Wyoming d) split about equally between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho
Geist: a Roker: c Answer: b
Total correct answers: Geist-2 Roker-1