Yellowstone has undergone a number of transitions in the 140 years since its national park designation in 1872. The period from the late 1930s through the early 1970s marked one of the most significant as the Park Service shifted focus from public recreation to interpretation and education.
The vast wilderness and numerous natural spectacles of the park became less objects of passive enjoyment and more subjects to be engaged, interpreted, and understood by visitors. The park was transformed from a playground into a classroom where active learning could take place. Charged with instituting these interpretive interactions were five remarkable ranger naturalists who served as both protectors and educators. In his book “Five Old Men of Yellowstone: The Rise of Interpretation in the First National Park” (published by University of Utah Press) Stephen Biddulph tells the story of the five men, his own father among them, tasked with inspiring a generation of visitors to the park. The interpretive initiatives of the rangers—nature walks, campfire programs, game stalks, and auto caravans—are enlivened by the colorful personalities of the five men who conducted them. Stephen G. Biddulph, son of one of the “Five Old Men,” spent his first eighteen summers in Yellowstone Park and has been a life-long student of Yellowstone. A retired Marine Corps officer, a Vietnam veteran, and a mental health therapist and drug addiction counselor, Biddulph is married with six children and nineteen grandchildren.