Yellowstone, Bald Ridge reflection (Kathy Lichtendahl – click to enlarge)
Yellowstone, Bald Ridge reflection (Kathy Lichtendahl – click to enlarge)

Spring into Yellowstone celebrates Cody’s wildlife and birds

by Kelsey Dayton

— May 6, 2014

Kelsey Dayton

Charles Preston used to visit Cody and Yellowstone National Park each summer to lead tours while he worked for the Denver Museum of Natural History. His wolf viewing trips in Lamar Valley always filled up, yet the tourists seemed to regard Cody, just outside Yellowstone, as simply a wild west town home to Buffalo Bill and rodeos.

“There is so much more here,” said Preston, who is now founding curator of the Draper Natural History Museum in Cody.

He always wondered why wildlife wasn’t better marketed with Cody.

Last year Barbara Cozzens, who at the time was director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, spearheaded the creation of the Spring into Yellowstone Wildlife Festival. The event gives visitors a chance to see birds and animals and better understand them by talking to biologists and agency staff who study the species and manage habitat.

“Spring really is the best time to view wildlife,” said Tia Brown, events coordinator for the Cody Chamber of Commerce.

Ibis in flight in Yellowstone (Kathy Lichtendahl – click to enlarge)
Ibis in flight in Yellowstone (Kathy Lichtendahl – click to enlarge)

Animals are active, migratory birds are in the area and the throngs of tourists haven’t yet arrived. The chamber organizes the event to boost visitation to the area in the shoulder season. Agencies like the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Bureau of Land Management help by planning and staffing tours, drawing from expertise in the area.

“We have some of the world’s leading authorities right here in Cody and from around the region that we can draw on,” Preston said.

Preston is leading an owl prowl, where he’ll take people to look for owls and maybe even trap and band some of the birds. Game and Fish and Bureau of Land Management biologists will lead a tour to a cave to talk about management and conservation issues regarding bats and their habitat. Staff will show the equipment used for surveying bats and, depending on the weather, attendees may even get to observe bats up close. Another trip explores the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, the wildlife that use it and the issues involved in managing it.

Mountain goat on a cliffside in Yellowstone (Kathy Lichtendahl – click to enlarge)
Mountain goat on a cliffside in Yellowstone (Kathy Lichtendahl – click to enlarge)

The trips provide a unique experience, said Tara Teaschner, information and education specialist for the Cody Region for Wyoming Game and Fish. For the agency it’s a chance to meet education and outreach goals. For those attending it’s a chance to interact with experts who study the animals, and come away with a greater understanding of the wildlife and management decisions.

In addition to trips looking for raptors or wild horses, there will also be guided hikes into lesser-known areas around Cody to observe and learn about the local flora and fauna.

“Most if this is not on the regular Yellowstone visitor’s radar screen,” Preston said.

The event also includes more traditional wildlife viewing tours, with trips to see bears, big horn sheep, moose, as well as birding excursions.

While the program was created to bring in visitors, locals also attend. Last year Meg Campbell went on a photography tour. She saw bears, mountain goats and a variety of birds. “We just saw everything,” she said. “This area is magic.”

Bear mother and cubs in Yellowstone (Barbara Cozzens – click to enlarge)
Bear mother and cubs in Yellowstone (Barbara Cozzens – click to enlarge)

While Campbell can visit the same areas any time on her own, she doesn’t always have access to the experts who take part in the annual Spring into Yellowstone event.

Last year about 150 people from 14 states and three countries attended the first Spring into Yellowstone Festival. “It has potential to be huge,” said Brown.

Preston agrees. The wildlife was one of the reasons he moved to Cody. He thinks the event could one day bring several thousand people to Cody each spring. “I think we have more than enough to offer,” he said.

For a complete schedule visit the Spring Into Yellowstone website

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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