April - November 2006

The Yellowstone Association

Old Faithful Bookstore

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The 6 W's

Who:

The Yellowstone Association

What:

The non-profit Yellowstone Association funds and provides educational products and services for the park. The YA is the parks primary partner in providing educational programs, exhibits and publications for park visitors.

Where:

Bookstores are located in various locations in the park including Canyon, Lake & Fishing Bridge, Madision/West Entrance, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris, Old Faithful, Tower-Roosevelt, West Thumb & Grant.

When:

Time commitment varies by which bookstore location you get. Some are May - September. Some are April - November.

Why:

The job that was advertised in Workamper News was for sales associate for bookstores around the park. After we interviewed by phone for that position, they asked if one of us would be wiling to be store manager. Both jobs entail getting the store ready for opening, stocking shelves, cleaning, helping with shipments (including helping to unload the truck, unpacking boxes of merchandise and checking off what was received), cleaning, waiting on customers, informing customers of YA membership and getting them to become a member, collecting money from pamphlet boxes out in the field, performing end-of-day cash audits, rolling posters, etc. The management aspect added scheduling and conflict resoution to the mix, as well as attending management meetings throughout the season.

Would we do again

YES!

What we liked

  • getting two days off in a row together
  • roaming YNP
  • a free Yellowstone Institute course
  • cheap, close post office
  • most visitors cared about the park and the wilderness
  • animals all around us
  • felt like we were helping the park by working there
  • working so closely with the rangers
  • RV spot close enough to walk to work

What we didn't like

  • paying for electricity
  • being there for almost 8 months
  • being cut off from internet
  • paying too much for the RV site
  • performing some of the management tasks

Our Experience

Working with the Yellowstone Association was our very first workamping gig. We saw the ad in Workamper News in December of 2005 and sent in our resumes. The Association was very prompt in getting back to us and setting up a phone interview. The phone interview itself was an interesting experience. There were about four folks on their end, and the two of us on this end. Luckily we had speakerphone on our cell phone, so it was just like a conference call from our old lives. We had good feelings about the phone interview, but they said they'd get back to us. It was only a couple of days after that call when we were told we had the jobs...with a couple of wrinkles. It seems they were looking for a store manager as well as a sales associate, and were wondering if one of us would be willing to take on the extra responsibility. We asked how much extra responsibility and were told, oh, just doing schedules and stuff like that. Plus, the manager would get paid more. Well, sure then. We decided between us that Phil should be the manager since he had a more even temper and a bit more diplomacy than I do. The other wrinkle was that they wanted to place us in the busiest store in the park - Old Faithful. Yikes! But since Phil and I had never been to Yellowstone before (but who hasn't heard of Old Faithful) we were excited at the chance to work there.

Because we were being placed at the busiest store in the park, and because that store opens earlier than most of the other store locations, we had to be there by mid-April. We got to West Yellowstone, Montana, on Easter, April 15, 2005, and drove up the the western gate of the park. Of course at that time, the park was closed to the public, so we actually had to get out of the truck and use a code the association folks had given us to open the gate. That was fun. We felt important. Plus, we were the only traffic on the roads...except for the bison.


In Yellowstone, there are employee living areas that consist of dorm-like housing, trailers and RV spots. Our RV spot was intermixed with trailers that were mainly occupied by Park Rangers. The RV parking at Old Faithful was really nice. We had a great end spot, with ranger trailers all around us and a bison wallow behind us. We were close to the laundry shack too, which was nice. And we were only about a 15-minute walk from work.

Phil and I started before the other seasonal employees, except for one other woman who had worked for the Association for years. She was able to show us the ropes, even though the Association was using new computer software that year, so Phil and I ended up showing her and our boss how to work the computers. But we spent the first tourist-light weeks learning how to run the registers, accept shipments, push YA memberships, create work schedules, and all the other duties I mentioned above. Then it was time for the other employees to show up (and for me and Phil to train them) and the summer to kick into gear.

Another interesting aspect of our summer there was that our bookstore location was moving due to renovations to the Visitor Center. So at the end of May, us employees moved the bookstore and all its contents from one location to another at Old Faithful. The bad news about that was the store had to be closed for a few days while we made the transition. The good news is that we had a great other workamper couple working with us, and we did a great job getting the new store set up in record time.

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Working at Old Faithful was intense at times. It was a rockin' location. There were times you couldn't see the geyser because there were so many visitors crowded around. And our bookstore was small, so there were times when it was just safest to stay behind the counter out of harms way and elbow-to-elbow people. But the time flew, and every 60-90 minutes, we had a break because the store emptied for the Old Faithful show.

The work we did was not hard, and our co-workers were great, except for one, but you have that. Because Phil was manager, he did have a few headaches around scheduling and the one trouble employee, but it was nothing he couldn't handle. If we go back, Phil has said he would manage again, so that's saying something.

The pros of working for the Yellowstone Association outweigh the cons by far. You'd be hard pressed to find a more interesting and beautiful place to work and to explore. Phil and I went to every section of that park, and our employers were great enough to supply us with plenty of information, including a Resource Manual that included information about every acre of the place, that enriched our experience. We were able to have two days off in a row, together, most times, to explore and kick back. And the Yellowstone Association paid for us to take a Yellowstone Institute course, which is something that park visitors pay hundreds of dollars to participate in. What the courses offer is you and a group of folks, along with an expert in a particular topic, going out and living Yellowstone. There are courses on all sorts of subjects, and as a YA employee, we got to choose which course we wanted to take. It was an awesome experience.

All in all, we had a great time in Yellowstone, and working for the Yellowstone Association as a wonderful experience. We would definitely work for them again.