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Come for a Season, Stay for a Lifetime

Come for a Season, Stay for a Lifetime

Written by: , May 31st, 2023

Along with the wildlife and scenery, Yellowstone is home to many traditions, especially amongst the employee population. While we cannot pinpoint an exact date in time (pun intended) when Yellowstone’s “Bear Pin Service Year program” began, we know it has been a steadfast program since at least the late 1980s. Anyone able to come up with a precise date or earlier year will be rewarded!

Each summer, returning staff at 2, 5, 10 (and every five after that) receive a special, Made in the USA custom-designed silver bear pin to wear as part of their uniform or to be stored away with one’s mementos. Though it has been hard to collect data over the past few years of unpredictable events, about 60-70% of our summer staff typically return for a second season. Subsequently, the percentage shrinks a bit at 3, 4, 5 years, etc.

It’s impossible to overstate that returning staff with their skills and knowledge of Yellowstone’s complex operation in a seasonal operation are indispensable. We appreciate both the fresh perspectives of new staff and the wisdom of our seasoned employees.

Lucky for us, the Yellowstone experience turns a percentage of staff into what many refer to as “lifers.” Each summer, we honor the team of employees who have served 20 or more years in the park. Most are year-round employees, yet many are seasonal staff working during our busy summer months. Some are even staff that work solely for the winter season year after year. All share a similar love and passion for the park. In 2022, close to 100 employees were celebrated, with approximately three thousand years of service between them!

General manager, Mike Keller, looks forward to gathering the group annually at his home for an outdoor dinner with delicious food, libations, camaraderie, and fun prizes. Mike presents those hitting milestone years with their new pins, beautifully adorned with a diamond or pearl to mark the longevity of their Yellowstone commitment.

We were excited to chat with a couple of members of this unique group of employees and glean some insights and perspectives into living, working, and exploring in Yellowstone for longer than some of us have been alive! Jan Hanley is a newer seasonal member of the group and Greg Dalling is a year-round member, logging 25 and 32 years in Yellowstone, respectively.


I’ll start with a basic question, but it’s something we wear on our nametags and a fact we are typically eager to learn about our new colleagues. Where are you from?

(Greg) Austintown and Kent, Ohio

(Jan) Originally from Indiana, though I’ve lived mainly in the West for the past thirty-some years.

What brought you both to the park?

(Greg) I learned how to drive a bus for a student-run bus system at Kent State University. Back then, representatives from Yellowstone Transportation came to Kent in late winter to recruit bus drivers from Kent to work in Yellowstone for the summer driving the tours. I had friends from Kent who had worked in Yellowstone in previous seasons and convinced me to give it a try.

(Jan) My youngest brother got a job here in 1987, and my brother Scott and I brought him out. The following year Scott came. A few years later, I came. So far, six Hanleys have worked in Yellowstone.

One of the perks of working in Yellowstone is the variety of jobs we can pursue. What positions have you held over the years?

(Greg) Bus Driver/Tour Guide, Transportation Dispatcher, Manager of Transportation, Safety Programs Trainer, Manager of Campground Operations, Assistant Director in Lodging, Assistant Director of Support Services & Activities

(Jan) Quite a few – housekeeping; human resources, housing; reservations; ski shop; front desk

Did you anticipate early on that you’d be here for as long as you have or when did it strike you that you would make a career of Yellowstone?

(Greg) No way! I would say sometime after my first winter and during my 2nd summer season.

(Jan) I thought the first year would be it, but then I managed to come back two years later. I thought that would be it, but I managed to come back two years later again. Then one more year. And then I knew I belonged here permanently. Life just wasn’t right anymore when I was away.

What have you enjoyed most during your time here?

(Greg) It’s tough to narrow down! Hiking, camping, and skiing in the park, meeting my wife here, and helping raise a son who now works summers in Yellowstone’s Bear Management Division.

(Jan) It’s hard to pick one thing. The beauty of the park, the animals, the hiking, the people I’ve met. Most of all, it’s the way of life. It’s so much different from “out there.” It’s quieter and slower, and more meaningful. You’re not bombarded by a thousand daily distractions. It’s an escape from the wretched commercialism and business of everyday life. Not that it doesn’t get crazy busy here—but after work, your psyche can slow down. One other important thing—people here accept those who are different, who don’t fit the normal mold. There’s a place for them here.

Many say their first location is home and ultimately their favorite – do you have a location that holds a special place in your heart?

(Greg) Like you said, probably my first – the Old Faithful Area

(Jan) Lake is my home.

What are a few of your favorite Yellowstone activities or aspects of the park?

(Greg) I love being out on Lake Yellowstone. We have taken several boat drops (shuttles) and have canoed/kayaked and camped at many campsites in the arms of the Lake.

(Jan) Hiking is my favorite activity and my favorite trails are up by Mammoth and the northeast area (except for Elephant Back). That’s my zen place.

Looking back, what advice do you wish you had received as a new employee?

(Greg) When I first arrived in Yellowstone, I felt like a fish out of water. It was so different from where I came from, plus I was a bit shy. It took me a while to adjust and meet new people, but once I started getting off the beaten path, I came to the realization what a special place this is and why it attracts many amazing employees. So my advice is to not hesitate to get to know your fellow employees and make plans to hit the trails and explore this remarkable area.

(Jan) If it starts out rough, give it time. It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.