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Nature Education: A new (?) challenge

Wildlife sanctuary header

I have a really exciting announcement to make: I’ve been involved with the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary on and off for sixteen years. It was called the Beartooth Nature Center back when I met then-Executive Director Ruth Brown. I’ve served on their board of directors on two separate occasions, emceed fundraisers for them, given poop talks, and made donations. My wife also volunteered, served on their board, and led tours.

But in less than two weeks, I will be a full-time employee of the Sanctuary. I’ll be combining my love of animals with my love of teaching as their Education Director.

Fear not!

The tea shop isn’t going anywhere! My daughter, Gwen, has been handling the day-to-day management for quite a while, my wife will still be involved, and I’ll still be doing events in the shop.

My writing won’t stop, either. For the vast majority of the time that I’ve been pumping out books, I’ve had a full-time job. And as Education Director, writing will be a big part of my job. You’ll hear a lot more from me both here and through the Sanctuary.

All the details!

For those who want to know everything, here’s the full text of the press release:


Red Lodge — 20 Feb 2018 — The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary has hired Red Lodge resident Gary Robson as their new Education Director.

“We’re really looking forward to having Gary on board,” said Mark Eder, the President of the Sanctuary’s board of directors. “With his background and experience, he’s the perfect fit for the position, and he has the right personality for education and outreach.”

The Education Director position at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary has been vacant for almost six months, and the Sanctuary has been searching both locally and around the country for candidates. In his new role, Robson will be responsible for creating educational materials and curricula; conducting on-site education through tours and seminars; conducting outreach into schools, museums, and other organizations; setting up field trips; collaborating with other wildlife-focused nonprofits; and working with other staff members on the Sanctuary’s website and social media.

Gary Robson has a varied background. He has written dozens of books, with his children’s nature series, Who Pooped in the Park?, selling over 500,000 copies to date. His background is in technology, where he worked in software engineering and circuit design in the 80’s and 90’s. That turned into extensive work in accessibility technology for deaf people, and teaching computer courses for three colleges, including Rocky Mountain College in Billings.

Robson has lived in Carbon County with his wife, Kathy, since 2001. They owned Red Lodge Books & Tea for 15 years, published the Local Rag newspaper, and currently own the Phoenix Pearl Tea Tavern, which is managed by their daughter, Gwen. Robson is a regular emcee for events in town, and is the announcer for the Home of Champions Rodeo Parade and the Winter Fest Parade.

“This job is an exciting new challenge for me,” Robson said. “It dovetails with all of my past work in education and nature, and takes me a step farther in my work with local nonprofits.” He has served on the boards of the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce, Beartooth Elks, and the Festival of Nations, and been active on committees for the Convention & Visitors Bureau and the City of Red Lodge. He is currently a member of the Sanctuary board, but is stepping down when he starts the new job.

The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission of providing lifelong sanctuary to non-releasable native wildlife and sharing a message of conservation and education. The Sanctuary was founded in 1987 when a group of concerned citizens took over the Red Lodge Zoological Society and created what was then called the Beartooth Nature Center.

Today, the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a wide variety of animals native to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, ranging from carnivores (mountain lion, coyote, bobcat, fox, lynx) to large hoofed mammals (bison, elk), smaller mammals (porcupine, marmot, raccoon), and birds (eagle, raven, owl, crow). The bears are some of the most popular residents. The Sanctuary has recently locked in funding for a large new wolf enclosure and a new sandhill crane/vulture habitat.

Charities Supporting Main Street

My grandson posing in a piece of construction equipment outside of our store.

My grandson posing in a piece of construction equipment outside of our store.

A friend of mine named Judith Gregory popped in to my store to chat a while ago. As we talked, she looked out the front window at the construction equipment that was ripping out half of the street to replace the water main through downtown Red Lodge.

“This construction must really be tough on business,” she commented. “It’s taking a heavy toll on the children’s shop across the street.”

“Yes, it is,” I replied. “People don’t want to slog through the dirt and dust and holes in the sidewalks to go shopping.”

Judith then made an observation that would start a big ball rolling.

“The downtown businesses always support the nonprofit. Maybe it’s time to return the favor.”

She’s right. Businesses on Broadway get a steady flow of requests. Can you donate a door prize or raffle prize for our charity event? Would you sponsor a table for our charity dinner? Can you kick in $50 to help a student take a field trip? Will you donate a gift card for our silent auction? Would you buy some cookies? Donate a gift basket?

As we talked, I told Judith about cash mobs. We’ve all heard of a flash mob. This is a similar concept, specifically designed to support small businesses. There are very few rules for a cash mob (if wouldn’t be much of a “mob” with a bunch of rules, would it?), and everybody does them differently. In a nutshell, you gather a group of people and pick a business. Everyone in the group shows up at the business at the same time and spends some money. It doesn’t need to be much. Fifty people spending $20 each is quite the shot in the arm to a mom & pop shop.

Judith’s thought was that each nonprofit in Red Lodge could pick a block of the downtown. With our little five-block historic downtown and dozens of 501(c) organizations, each side of the street in each block could have a couple of sponsors. The nonprofit would then use their mailing list to encourage their donors, board members, and volunteers to come out one Friday evening and shop that block.

Again, it doesn’t need to be much: buy a drink at the pub, have a bite to eat at the restaurant. Buy a book at the bookstore, a vase at the clay center, a plant at the flower shop. It wouldn’t take much to make up for the effect the construction has had on business. Each year the town has a Christmas Stroll where businesses stay open late and people stroll the streets and shop. This would be kind of a Construction Stroll.

Judith took the idea to the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, which agreed to help sponsor and promote the event.

Red Lodge Area Community Foundation

The idea has morphed since Judith’s original concept, becoming the “Rumpus on Broadway.” Despite the changes, however, Judith’s original concept shines through. This Friday from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, the nonprofits in our area will be helping to support the businesses that support them all year. It’s a wonderful concept, and the beauty of it is that the event reminds us what a community really is. Red Lodge isn’t a pile of bricks and mortar in a beautiful setting: it’s a bunch of people helping to support each other.

Thank you, Judith. You are one of the people that makes this a wonderful place to live.

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