By Mylun Jackson and Claire McGee
The week after Ohio University students finished finals, a group of eight Ohio Fellows traveled to the Grand Teton Mountain Range in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to study leadership and ecology at the Teton Science School. Accompanied by members of the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program, we learned and experienced more than we could have ever imagined.
We landed Sunday at the Grand Teton National Park Airport and were immediately greeted by the overwhelming sight of one of our nation’s greatest natural wonders. Just a few hours later, during our program orientation, we looked outside to see a moose standing just feet away from the building. Junior Fellow Mara Caldwell describes this experience by saying, “At first I thought it was a joke. How could we really be seeing a moose this close. It was so surreal to be so close to such a beautiful animal in its natural habitat. It was breathtaking.”
This serendipitous encounter certainly set the tone for the rest of the trip. The following day, we got up with the sun to begin a hike up Lobo Mountain. Teton Science School leader Josh Kleyman led the group in several leadership and team-building exercises, fostering an environment of emotional intimacy and vulnerability. After taking time to reflect on our expectations for the week, we ate lunch overlooking the mountains.
The next day, we began to dive into ecology through a hike to Taggart Lake. Although we were elated to experience the in-between season snow of Wyoming, the hike provided a hefty physical challenge and resilience check that we were more than determined to overcome. This day pushed us both physically and mentally, but we walked away with a deepened understanding of fire ecology, resilience, and the link between human and ecological systems.
As the week went on, we grew stronger in our personal bonds to each other, which only enriched our learning experience and time spent in the mountains. We then had the chance to visit Ohio Fellows alumnus Ralph Haberfeld and his wife, Louise, who gifted us this incredible opportunity. We spent the evening in their lovely home overlooking the Tetons, where we watched the documentary, Arctic Dance. It told the story of Mardy and Olaus Murie, pioneers of the United States conservation movement. We were so moved by the story of the Muries and were grateful to spend time connecting with Ralph and Louise. Leaving their house that evening, we couldn’t wait for the following day, when we would visit the Murie Ranch.
Being able to so closely examine what now is considered an important piece of American history was awe-inspiring to say the least and walking the same trails as someone as culturally significant as Mardy Murie almost forces introspection. We were also fortunate enough to hear from some highly involved conservationists from the area, who gave us some insight into the current state of their movements and progress that’s being made. This instilled a sense of hope that we are now eager to bring back to our local communities. After hearing Mardy’s story we trailed to Snake River, another ecological marvel. We took time to ruminate over some of Murie’s words, which tackled ideas of curiosity and people’s inherent connection to the natural world.
On Friday we had the opportunity to give back to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that we had been experiencing all week by planting willow trees. Nate Kaminski, a junior fellow, describes his experience by saying, “I thought that planting the trees was a really good connection to ecology and to apply what we learned to give back to the community. The original Fellow’s mission had a lot of emphasis on leadership through service, so it was great to connect this to our current cohort. It was also amazing to create tangible change and to add to what prior cohorts had already been working on in Jackson Hole.”
Our final day in Wyoming, we had the privilege to join the Haberfelds on the Harlequin Duck pilgrimage to Yellowstone National Park. Along the road, we stopped in multiple places to search for bears, and admire the Yellowstone Grand Canyon and the hot springs. Towards the end of the day, we saw a bunch of cars pulled over by the side of the road. To our delight, they had spotted a large grizzly bear feeding on a bison across the lake. We ran through the snow for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a grizzly bear in person. Lexi DeBord, a junior Fellow, explains, “It was so cool to see an animal that we don't have in Ohio, and it’s something that the whole group was hoping for the entire trip. It was a really special way to finish the week. It really made me think about how grateful I am for the Fellows Program. I don’t know if I would have ever seen a grizzly bear without trips like this.”
This was the most perfect ending to a transformative week spent in the mountains. We cannot adequately express our gratitude to Ohio University, the Ohio Fellows Program, and the Haberfelds for this opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun in one of the most beautiful natural spaces in the world. As we transition back into our daily lives, and prepare to return to campus in the fall, we take with us the knowledge of leadership, camaraderie, and ecology that we acquired at the Teton Science School.