YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – For many people, walking to work is a great part of their days.
However, MTN recently met a man who has to walk to his job, but only once each year. And when he gets to his office, he’s got the best view of any in Yellowstone National Park.
Meet the man living the high life in the Mount Washburn Fire Lookout Tower – Ed Stark.
“I come up here in the middle of June and am scheduled to leave the end of September and I’ve only left the end of September once,” said Stark, Mount Washburn Fire Spotter. “I got kicked out more time early by snow and a few times stayed late into October or mid-October for fires.”
One of the best things about Ed’s summer home? No neighbors block out his view.
“There used to be a lot of fire lookouts in the park,” said Stark. “This was the first one that was ever manned full-time and it’s the last manned one now.”
Stark was a firefighter; now that he’s retired, this has been his summer job for the past 12 years. Unlike any other seasonal job in Yellowstone, his office is in the penthouse, 3,000 feet above Old Faithful, or almost a mile above the Yellowstone River carving the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
“Basically any fire lookout’s got about a 15-mile range,” explained Stark. “Realistically, here’s being the only one I look as far as I can see. Last year we had a fire outside of the park by Hunter Peak and I called that one in. I’ve called some in that were some 30 odd miles away, I mean I cover whatever I can see and I can see down to Mount Sheridan down to the south, see the north border, see over to the Gallatin, so I can see a lot.
Stark says on a clear day he can actually see Old Faithful erupt from his office and bears do occasionally pass by – he even had a stray bison walk into his front yard, a few thousand feet above the good grass in the valleys below.
Stark is alone at night with just the nation’s first national park as company, but during the day he can see as many as 500 visitors – all willing to make the 3-mile, 1,500-foot elevation gain hike from the trailhead. That’s his commute to work as well each spring.
“I bring most of the stuff up at the beginning of the season,” said Stark. “I’ve got freezer space so most of my supper meals and lunch meals and breakfasts I have. The only thing I don’t have is a supply of water, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables. I call those into the grocery store and the people from the fire cache bring them up every two weeks or so.
“I’m retired, I wouldn’t come back season after season if I didn’t enjoy it,” said Stark.
And he plans to keep coming back.
“Well when I first came it was going to be ‘I’m going to come back for a long time,’” said Stark. “Unfortunately the body’s getting older, the hike up and down is getting a little bit harder so I’m now taking it year-to-year. Planning on being back next year but you never know what’s going to happen with your health or anything like that so just living day-to-day.”
Not a bad way to spend each day-to-day high above Yellowstone.
MTN’s Chet Layman