Man's dream job comes true in an outdoor paradise

Posted: Friday, November 01, 2002

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- If being in the outdoors somehow makes people feel more spiritual, half of Bill Young's work is done before he ever opens a Bible.

Young, a West Virginia native, is the resident minister at Yellowstone National Park. For an unabashed lover of fishing, hiking and wilderness camping, the job is a dream come true.

''My parishioners are outdoors people, and they expect me to do these things,'' Young said. ''A lot of visitation takes place on trout streams, because if you don't catch the people there, you don't find them at home.''

Almost from the moment he set foot in the Big Sky country of Wyoming and Montana, Young knew that the job would be perfect for him.

As a youngster growing up in the Kanawha Valley, he'd developed a powerful appetite for outdoor adventure. His father, Bill Young Sr., was a champion skeet shooter who passed his love of hunting and fishing on to his namesake.

''From the time I was old enough to walk, I had a fishing rod or a rifle in my hands,'' said Bill Jr. ''I became a very avid outdoorsman.''


Bill Young shows off his catch of trout in this undated handout photo taken in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area in Montana, near Yellowstone National Park. Young, Yellowstone's resident minister says his work gives him everything he needs: hunting, fishing, camping and backpacking, in a natural setting that promotes a more spiritual attitude.

AP Photo/Courtesy of Bill Young, via the Charleston Daily Mail, Adrian Cole

After graduating from St. Albans High School and West Virginia State College, Young enrolled in Asbury Theological Seminary. While there, he spent his summers working for an outfit called A Christian Ministry in National Parks.

''I got assigned to Yellowstone,'' he recalls. ''I conducted church services at the Old Faithful Inn and at a campground near Old Faithful.''

The geothermal wonders of the Firehole River and its adjoining geyser basins must have had a profound effect on Young. Certainly the lure of the park's untrammeled backcountry did.

''I conducted my ministries on the weekend,'' he said. ''The rest of the week I had a job with the Park Service, patrolling backcountry trails. I worked with pack mules and horses, and that's when I got bitten with the idea of coming out west.''

Young returned home and served a two-year hitch as minister at First Methodist Church in Princeton, W.Va., then worked four years at a Hinton church.

In 1983, the resident minister's position at Yellowstone came open. Young didn't hesitate. He moved his young, growing family to the land of geysers and grizzly bears, and he's been there ever since.

''It's been a great place to raise a family,'' Young said. ''My wife Debby and I have four sons. Matthew, 25, works for Aetna Insurance in Dallas. Nathan, 24, is a pilot in Bozeman, Mont. Andrew, 21, is a student at Montana State University. Daniel, 17, is a senior at Gardiner (Mont.) High.

''All of them grew up hunting, fishing and camping. My oldest son, Matthew, misses Montana so bad he can't see straight. In fact, he's coming back for an antelope hunt about a week from now.''

Young said he does as much hunting and fishing as his conscience will allow.

''I pastor the chapel at Mammoth, inside the park, and I also serve the Gardiner Community Church,'' he said. ''Not surprisingly, I get a lot of invitations to hunt or fish with my parishioners. Around here, you need to spend time outdoors with your parishioners, because that's where they spend most of their time.''

With so much to do and so much country in which to do it, most people would have a difficult time figuring out what to do next. Young said that's sometimes the case, but there's one favorite pastime he simply can't resist.

''I have horses and mules,'' he said. ''I love to gather the family, pack up the mules, and head back into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. It's a wild, rugged area, completely surrounded by Yellowstone Park and the Gallatin and Shoshone national forests.

''It's true wilderness. There are no roads; you either walk or ride a horse, and you take everything with you. We live off the land, hunting and catching fish.''

Thanks to Young's string of pack mules, the camp isn't exactly Spartan. It features a walled tent, cots, and a wood-burning stove. ''It's pretty nice,'' he said.

And it's made all the nicer by its surroundings. Young said the Yellowstone region provides him with all the beauty he could ever wish to see and all the recreation he could ever wish to enjoy. It also makes his job as a minister easier by promoting a ''spiritual attitude'' in him and his parishioners.

''When people move out of an environment that's mostly man-made to an area of natural beauty, they start asking religious questions, even if they're not aware of it,'' he said. ''I can think of no better place than Yellowstone for causing these questions to be asked.

''Here, Homo sapiens is not even at the top of the food chain! People are confronted with the reality that they're not entirely in control. There are forces at work here mightier than man. The impact of that reality helps to cultivate a receptive attitude.''

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