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YELLOWSTONE VISITORS PLEASED WITH WHAT THEY ARE FINDING THERE

Many of the first visitors to Yellowstone National Park this spring are quickly finding that the crown jewel of the park system was only slightly tarnished by 1988's firestorms.

While the tourists vividly remember the flames they saw on television, they didn't expect to find Yellowstone as alive with new growth as it is this spring, according to ranger Thomas Huntington."I've found that the media blew (the fires) out of proportion," he said Thursday. "(Visitors) are pleasantly surprised to find that the park is still here, healthy and, that in the long-term, it may benefit."

Questions about the forest fires that blackened almost half of the 2.2 million acre park are being fired at park rangers along with the standard queries on the weather and wildlife.

"The questions about the fires are the most interesting," said Phillip Harmon, who greets tourists at the park's West Entrance at West Yellowstone, Mont., where some 400 to 500 cars pass daily. "Most of them just want to know how much of the park was affected."

Harmon said most of the questions he hears have to do with exactly how much of Yellowstone was burned in the fires that began in June and continued into late fall.

"Most people are positive about it," he said. "I haven't had any animal questions. But some are a little more specific. When I have time, I explain some things."

Huntington, who is based at Madison Junction, which was home to one of the largest fire camps, said many of the questions concern how the flames affected Yellowstone's wildlife.

"I tell them it will be very positive in the long-run," he said.

No signs of the fire camp remain at Madison Junction, about 16 miles north of Old Faithful, but many tourists remember the flames they saw on television, Huntington said.

Harmon said once he shares the figures with visitors, and passes on that biologists expect a natural "rebirth" throughout the park, most tourists are pleased.

"About 80 percent of the comments I have heard have been positive," he said. "That is what we like to hear."

Some tourists, however, are angry that the fires left behind a mosaic of blackened hillsides and dead trees, Harmon said.

"We've had a few people mad," he said. "One man said he would devote all his energy and resources to getting (Park Superintendent Robert Barbee) fired. But that is unusual."