Ranger celebrates 50 years in Yellowstone; Longest service in Yellowstone history

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Written by Wendy Kaur, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park Ranger Harlan Credit has just returned from leading a group of 27 to the summit of Avalanche, a 4.7-mile round-trip hike that climbs 2,100 feet to the summit.

Driving the hikes up to the summit of Avalanche is just one of Kredit’s duties as a Park Ranger, and it’s something he’s been doing every summer for the past 50 years.

Yes, 50 years old. Credit is 82 years old, and the Park Ranger is likely the longest-serving in Yellowstone’s 150-year history.

“I think you’re the longest-serving guard in Yellowstone,” Credit told Cowboy State Daily.

Credit was recently honored for its longevity with a party at Yellowstone Lake. Approximately 250 people attended.

“About 70 of those were my relatives,” Credit said.

Everyone in the family

Credit has been working as a park ranger in Yellowstone every summer—except for two, when he moved into his home in Washington State—since 1971.

“The first two years I worked like everyone else,” he said. “I gave two evening lectures, worked at the visitor center, etc.”

Two years later, Credit said he was appointed superintendent of the fishing bridge area, which he has done for about 10 years.

“They wanted it to be a permanent position, and I wasn’t interested in a permanent position, because I still wanted to teach for the rest of the year,” he said. “So I am just one of your regular interpreters. In this sense, my job has not changed in 50 years, in terms of what I am being asked to do.”

When he started, Credit said his wife and children spent the summer with him in a small cottage next to the visitor center. Their three children themselves worked in the garden for a few years when they were old enough, following in their father’s footsteps.

“My daughter still works in the parks service in the summer, and her husband was a law enforcement ranger in Canyon during the summer,” Credit said.

His daughter’s three children are now growing up in Yellowstone, just as she was raised.

“I now have three grandchildren here,” Credit said. “So it’s kind of the neat part for me. On my days off, I hike with my grandchildren, or take them fishing to Yellowstone Lake. So we’re third generation here now.”

Credit’s 15-year-old grandson began volunteering for the park service, working with his mother at one of the rangers’ stations.

“So it’s fun to see my grandson in a volunteer uniform like that,” he said. “And who knows, maybe he will work in the garden one day. I don’t know about that.”



You can’t take the teacher out of the guard

In previous years, when the summer was over, Credit had returned to his “regular” job as a science teacher at Washington State. But there were times when his world collided, as on a summer night years ago, when he was called in with the volunteer fire brigade, for which he served for 35 years.

“I was saying it was about 2 a.m., and it was kind of a false alarm,” Credit said. “I’m driving the fire truck, and I’m going past the lake district, and I said, ‘Look, you guys, we have to do this. I got on the intercom, pulled the fire truck off the road—there was no one else there—and said, “Everyone get out of the truck.”

Crédit led his fellow firefighters into the middle of a meadow and made them all sit down, then proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes presenting a program about the night sky, which he would normally reserve for visitors.

“Last week, Tuesday, two guys who were in the fire department at the time, said they never forgot 2:30 in the morning, and they stood there in their fiery clothes in the middle of this meadow, doing the night sky program, because I’m studying astronomy,” he said. credit.

Stay on top of the flag

Credit has learned a lot about the science of Yellowstone National Park during the 50 years he’s been here.

“I have always tried to keep up with the latest science that is happening,” he said. “A lot of my good friends work at the USGS, and so do the people who dive into Yellowstone Lake who have ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) and study these events? I had a lot to do with them.”

Credit considers himself a lifelong learner.

“We have a lot to discover,” he said. “The entire microbiology world, what’s under Yellowstone Lake, the archaeological materials, the Native American use around the park. I was young scientific, and I loved the science part.”

Big changes in 50 years

The visit has definitely changed since Credit first worked in Yellowstone.

Credit noted that “if you look at visitor records in 1971 compared to, like last year, the number of visits at least doubled,” but said that fewer families visit the park. He also said he sees more animals than he used to.

“I see a lot of bulls and bears and wolves, they obviously came in ’95 and ’96,” he said. “But a lot of those animals are visible.”

Technology has also made coming to Yellowstone a more modern experience, with mobile apps changing the way visitors interact with nature. But Credit said some things remain the same.

He said, “When you go out to people on a road, and you talk to them about how important these gardens are, and you try to get them to use all their senses, but that hasn’t changed. I love children’s curiosity, and they’re still as curious as ever.”

Doing the right thing

Credit has been involved in some dramatic situations during his years as a Yellowstone park ranger.

He said, recalling an incident in the 1980s, when a young boy crawled out of his tent while his parents and grandparents were sitting near a campfire.

“I was lucky enough to find him at three in the morning,” said Credit, “clustered under two trees, kind of cold.”

Credit considers his search for the child a life-changing experience, one among many he has experienced in his career.

“In a situation like this, it was really easy to walk past those trees, because I had made my way through hundreds and hundreds of them in the past five hours,” Credit said. “But that little voice said, ‘Go back and do it right.'” So I just turned and kicked my way into those three trees. And there’s that kid lying there looking at me.”

Credit said the experience really changed the way he looked at things, and reminded him to make sure he did the work right and to the best of his abilities.

“I’ve never forgotten that,” Credit said. “Every time I drive a Louis Lake Campground, I think of that experience.”

A word of advice

Credit said that in its 50 years, it has seen quite a few missteps for visitors.

“It amazes me that many visitors do not understand that it is not a good idea to go up and try to pet a bison,” said Credit, acknowledging that people are not used to the idea that these animals are wild animals, which means they should not be approached.

“In Yellowstone, a lot of people seem to be very excited,” he said. “They’ve never seen this before, they’re doing things on the roads that put themselves and the animals at risk.”

Credit mentions a specific case in which a passerby reported a dangerous situation.

“I was working at the visitor center,” he recalls, “and a very angry lady came in there with her camera and said, ‘Ranger, you have to do something about this.’” And she put her camera in front of me and showed me some pictures. And there were about three pictures showing a family of about six people taking their kid outside, I think he’s four or five years old, and this kid sitting on the back of a bison.”

Credit said it still uses those images in its tutorials as an example to other visitors.

“This is a big and dynamic place,” he said, “maybe 35 or 40,000 new people come in one day, all bringing their own interests, joys, and questions, and it’s always a challenge to try to help as much as you can and some days we do better than others. But that’s what we do. Every day, we have to give our best, and life goes on.”

The importance of national parks

“Across the country, (still) people are gravitating toward national parks,” Credit said. “And we need it for a lot of different reasons. It makes a healthier generation of people, and we desperately need those. So I am a real strong advocate for public lands no matter where they are, because our nation will be stronger for it.”

“Yesterday I was out at Mud Volcano and spoke to a few hundred people there,” Credit said. “And they were all just as curious as they were 50 years ago.”

Kredit said it’s an honor and a challenge to explain what’s going on, why these parks are so important to people — and how they should be protected for future generations.

He said, “I am old, and my grandchildren now, will be the new leaders of the park system.”

Going strong at age 82

Credit said his recent hike to the top of the Avalanche was one of dozens during his career in Yellowstone, and it’s his favorite place to go in the park.

“I probably did it 150 times,” he said. “You stand on top of that mountain, and you look around, it just feels great and liberating… It’s just the best kind of the best. It’s an aggressive hike, a very uphill hike, but once you get there, it is really worth it.”

Kredit admitted that rising Avalanche Peak isn’t as easy at 82 as it was at 22.

“But you know, you kind of believe you can do that, and go at a flat rate, and that’s fun,” he said. “And I plan to do it several times this summer.”

Will he be back next year at the age of 83?

“I’d like, I think, to come back next summer,” Credit said. “You know, I have to decide what I want to do when I grow up.”

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