Joshua Grimes is climbing through a literary hole in time back to "Yallerstone country" to guide children along a nature trail reflecting the force of 1988's fire-storms.
The craggy ol' mountain man, created in 1986 by writer Sandra Chisholm Robinson to recount the natural and human history of Yellow-stone National Park, will resume his storytelling along the Children's Fire Trail next month."Yallerstone's a powerful place with more tales to tell than even an ol' timer like me could ever l'arn," Grimes tells visitors in a tape-recorded message being installed at the start of the boardwalk trail.
"But the story of fire . . . heh, heh, that story sure do shine," the fictional mountain man quickly adds.
Grimes will tell that story through a dozen or so interpretive displays being erected along the trail.
He'll note the baked boulders, charred trees and sterilized soils that serve as stark reminders of the fires that caught the world's attention. And Grimes will point to nature's recuperative powers - the floral bursts of fireweed and lupine, the lodgepole seedlings, the aspen shoots.
The trail, located roughly six miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Blacktail Plateau, is a tribute to the scores of children throughout the country who in 1988 wondered how they could help Yellowstone recover from the once-in-a-lifetime fires.
Many children wanted to send pine cones and seedlings to the park to help reforest burned areas, but park policy dictating that the areas recover naturally made those offers inappropriate. So instead the National Park Service decided to build the trail and suggested that students interested in helping Yellowstone raise funds for the project.
So far those donations have covered about $6,000 of the project's $125,500 estimated cost.
As children and others wind their way down the trail they'll see living trees intermixed with charred skeletons of trees, some scattered about the forest floor, others towering like blackened totem poles.
They'll be able to run their hands across massive boulders that stood in the path of the Wolf Lake Fire and see how the rocks' bulk protected their northern faces while the southern faces are shedding slivers of rock literally baked by the flames.
A series of photographs taken on Sept. 9, 1988, the day the fire stormed the area, will be on display since the rapid growth of wildflowers has obscured some traces of the flames.
"We'll have copies of those photographs, because when you look at it now, it's very tough to tell there was a fire," said Ranger Joe Zarki, who is overseeing development of the trail.
Revegetation of the area also will be described by some of the panels, one of which will explain how sagebrush that burned two years ago now is affecting the regrowth, Zarki said.
Since sagebrush burns hotter than surrounding grasses, explained the ranger, soil closer to the bush was sterilized and is taking longer to recover to the point of being able to sustain plants. Vegetation around these bushes is actually coming back in concentric circles - greening up from the outside in, he said.
Stands of aspen and lodgepole pine surrounding the trail are evidence that while fire can destroy trees, it can also create life, the ranger said.
When exposed to heat, lodgepole pine cones expand, allowing the seeds they cup to drop to the ground where they can germinate, said Zarki.
"It opens and closes several times until all the seeds are gone," he explained.
Aspens, meanwhile, redirect their energies when they burn, the ranger explained.
Park officials hope those who meander along the boardwalk gain an appreciation for Yellowstone's rapidly changing world.
"Change belongs to Yellowstone as much as the rocks, the trees, the wind. Nothing ever stays the same."