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Preston Hull recounts his summer course in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Sitting in a Boston restaurant circa 2009 and feeling particularly worn down by city life, I was struck by an image on the TV above the bar. A travel special was showing the snowy, rugged peaks of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming – with no traffic jams, dirty streets, or throngs of people in sight. From that moment, Grand Teton was at the top of my list of dream vacations.
Six years later, I finally got my opportunity to head west along with a dozen other Penn Conservation Science students and professors. The purpose of our trip was to assist the Park in conserving the Bar BC, a historic dude ranch within its boundaries. For three weeks, we had the unforgettable experience of working – and living – in Grand Teton.
The thirteen of us lived at Whitegrass, another former ranch that the Park had recently restored, and were looked after by extremely gracious caretaker Roger Butterbaugh. On a typical day, we woke up and stepped outside of our cabins to the sight of elk standing in the adjacent field, the sun rising over the Gros Ventres Mountains in the distance. After a rib-sticking breakfast prepared by our resident cook Sharon Attebery, we piled into a van and drove to the Bar BC for a long day’s work.
With the indispensable help of Ben Isaacson, unequalled carpenter from the Western Center for Historic Preservation, we dug drainage trenches. We laid cornerstones. We hauled and sawed logs. We de-roofed and re-roofed, de-porched and re-porched. We lifted up the modest cabins on screw jacks, righting and rectifying them like real-life Photoshop. We probed with awls, resistance drills, and moisture meters. We slaked lime and mixed mortar. We repointed, we chinked, and we daubed.
After three weeks, we had cleaned, stabilized, and partially restored two entire cabins. Meanwhile, fellow student Angelina Jones had managed to complete an impressive cultural landscape-based treatment plan for the Bar BC. Between her work and ours, we were able to proudly present the Park with completed cabins and a thoughtful plan for site-wide conservation and interpretation. Knowing that this favorite site of fly-fisherman and off-the-beaten-path tourists would likely not again receive funding or attention for some time, all involved were thrilled to see the ranch get the care it deserved.
I think I speak for all of my fellow students when I say that I was sad to board my plane at the Jackson airport. The trip was a remarkably fluid blend of experiential learning, hard labor, and once-in-a-lifetime vacation – a far richer experience than I could have imagined on that dreary night in Boston.
Preston Hull is a second year student in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at PennDesign. A native of Gettysburg, PA, he has been living in Philadelphia for four years. His primary interest is the preservation of Pennsylvania's rural and small-town buildings and landscapes.