History was never a strong subject for me in school. It just didn’t interest me. I liked science, and have always been curious about the natural world around me. But, I thought, I had no use for history.
It wasn’t until, oh, around age 40 that I found myself seeking out books about history to read recreationally. The brilliant HBO series Band of Brothers single-handedly sparked an appreciation and fascination of the immense efforts and sacrifices made during World War II. When the series was over, I hungered for more. I started by reading the book by Stephen Ambrose upon which the series was based. And then, having discovered for the first time a teacher who brought history to life for me, I craved and read more Ambrose.
While preparing for a half-work, half-fishing trip to Montana several years ago, I purchased Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. For some reason at that time, and on two more attempts in the years to follow, the book just didn’t grab me. But a few months ago, as I began making plans for a September return trip to Montana, I picked up the book again. This time, like a trout finally taking a fly after having refused numerous similar presentations, the story hooked me. I was enthralled. I decided then to add the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls and some other spots along the Lewis and Clark Trail to my itinerary.
As I looked on a map, plotting a course that combined new places I wanted to see and fish like Yellowstone with places of historical interest, it occurred to me that they are the same places. It turns out I do have a use for history. The natural world I love so dearly has a fascinating fabric of American history woven through it. The cutthroat trout I’ve caught before in the cold, clear waters of western Montana have some of the same genetic material as the cutthroats first described to science in the expedition journals of Meriwether Lewis. And while the expedition did not enter what is now Yellowstone National Park, Lewis and Clark did explore the Yellowstone River. And this September I may stand near where they once stood, looking out over terrain virtually unchanged in 200 years.
But it is not unchanged by chance, it literally took an act of Congress to preserve such a place. In March, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act of Dedication, and Yellowstone, America’s first national park, was born.
Today, individuals and organizations work tirelessly to protect these special resources. And the threats against them are real. The Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout is in grave danger due to the illegal introduction of invasive, non-native lake trout into Yellowstone Lake 20 years ago, and Trout Unlimited, along with the Yellowstone Park Foundation is aggressively attempting to reverse the near total decimation of the Yellowstone Cutthroat.
But I can’t just sit back and observe these efforts and hope they go well. There is more at stake than just being able to hold up a cutthroat trout and say, “Oncorhynchus clarkii, named after William Clark. Neat!” As a fly fisherman, a lover of the outdoors, a fervent – albeit recent – student of history, an outdoor writer and blogger and a regular visitor to our national parks and waterways, I have a responsibility as a steward of these resources.
It’s not for me to say what others should do. But as I enjoy my recreational pursuits, both here in Virginia and across this great land, I will try harder to do my part, to stay informed about the preservation and conservation efforts concerning natural treasures like the Yellowstone Cutthroat, and to support organizations like Trout Unlimited, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Simms and the Outdoor Blogger Network, whose efforts both on the ground and in the arena of public awareness are a true act of dedication. I encourage my friends and readers to do the same.