The Parks Program, an interdisciplinary institute at County College of Morris (CCM), is venturing to Yellowstone National Park with its first-ever student group this month.

Seven CCM students were competitively selected for this once-in-a-lifetime, free opportunity to visit the national park May 14 through May 19. They are sharing the experience with three CCM professors who are collaborating onsite to teach art history, biology and storytelling in the amazing outdoor classroom.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is one of the sights students and professors will enjoy on this CCM trip. Credit: John Soltes.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is one of the sights students and professors will enjoy on this CCM trip. Credit: John Soltes.

“We’re very excited for this interdisciplinary trip to Yellowstone National Park that will serve as our learning laboratory,” says Dr. Brian Sahotsky, professor in the Art & Design department and one of the program organizers. “This trip in itself is not a program completion requirement but rather a capstone for students to investigate several disparate aspects of what makes the conservation of natural lands so great.”

The four-day journey begins with seeing the incredible magnitude of Yellowstone and learning the history of artists, naturalists and explorers. Sahotsky will lead the group through Artists Point, Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone providing opportunities for students to journal and sketch to capture the beautiful scenery.

Later that week, Professor John Soltes, an award-wining journalist teaching in the Communication department at CCM, will provide an overview of the cultural histories and discuss the major issues facing Yellowstone in the 21st Century. “We will also meet Dr. Shane Doyle, a member of the Crow Nation, and visit one of the tribe’s ancestral spot,” says Soltes.

The itinerary also includes looking for wildlife, such as bears, wolves, bison, elk and moose, in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. CCM Biology Professor Samantha Gigliotti will use her many years of experience conducting educational sessions about wildlife conservation to delve into this topic in the Wonderland.

“Yellowstone National Park is one of the few places left in the United States where you can still see large mammals that once roamed the majority of our country,” says Gigliotti. “Our students will be presented with this amazing opportunity to learn about the biology and life history of these incredible animals and immerse themselves in the landscapes that support them.”

This unique adventure wraps up with seeing the Yellowstone Caldera, the supervolcano that last erupted about 640,000 years ago creating a 30 x 45-mile landform, and also visiting a variety of geyser basins including Old Faithful.

“Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been an advocate for protecting the Earth’s diverse ecosystems,” says Peter Balluffi-Fry, an International Studies major from Mountain Lakes, who will be going on the trip.Being able to explore and learn about the national park that inspired Americans to begin protecting our country’s natural environment is what ultimately motivated me to apply. “I’m looking forward to witnessing all of Yellowstone’s natural, majestic beauty first-hand, from the Grand Prismatic to the bison and bears that call Yellowstone home.

CCM students interested in going on the trip submitted an application with an essay explaining why they wanted to travel to Yellowstone. According to Sahotsky, “It was competitive with many more applicants than slots we had available.”

“I applied to go to Yellowstone because as a nature lover and photographer who has found my passion in becoming a climate-change and animal rights activist,” says Raizzi Stein, a communications major from Morristown. “Visiting and photographing one of the world’s largest natural ecosystems with such an immense amount of beautiful biodiversity that hasn’t been subjected to human destruction would be a dream come true.”