Yellowstone's backcountry will help nurture international relations next month when Soviet teens work on the fire-scarred landscape with a U.S. recovery team.
The trip to the national park's Buffalo Plateau is three years in the making and got a boost during the recent superpower summit when President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed on more youth exchanges."The politics of getting these crews over here are incredible," said Helen Wellborn, a regional official for the 33-year-old Student Conservation Association, which is coordinating the exchange.
In past years the SCA, the nation's oldest and largest provider of full-time outdoor volunteers, has hosted teams from West Germany, but the upcoming Soviet visit is a first, said Wellborn, now in Yellowstone to help coordinate the trip.
Destry Jarvis, SCA's executive vice president in Washington, said planning for this trip began in 1987 when a U.S. delegation of National Park Service officials went to Moscow. During those meetings about the two countries' park systems it was agreed that youth exchanges involving the SCA would be beneficial, said Jarvis, who was part of the U.S. delegation.
Last fall it was decided that the first exchange should involve Yellowstone, which still is recovering from 1988's forest fires, he said.
The recovery effort got more attention earlier this month when President Bush recognized it as one of his "thousand points of light."
In addition to the youth exchanges, park officials from the superpowers are learning management skills from one another, Jarvis said. While Soviet park systems are strong on historic preservation efforts, the United States is more advanced in interpretive and educational programs, said Jarvis.
"They have quite a bit more detailed scientific data to base their management decisions on than we do," he explained. "But they don't have as strong education and interpretive programs.
"We do a lot more detailed planning in the parks than they do, and they are interested in learning about our planning process," the SCA leader said.
During the youth exchange the Latvians and Estonians will learn about resource management practiced by the Park Service as well as trail construction and maintenance practiced by the SCA.
Immediately following the Yellowstone trip the American crew will travel to the Soviet Union to work on trails in Lahemaa and Gauja national parks with the Latvian and Estonian teams.
While the main emphasis of the trips is to learn more about each country's park system, they are not without some political ramifications, according to Jarvis.
"The youth exchange I think is meant as a gesture of international good will as much as anything else," he said.
The long, detailed planning involved with the exchange has been trying for Jarvis, and the heightened tensions between Moscow and the Baltic states, particularly Lithuania, has only added to the stress.
"If there was any sense or sign of military activities (against Latvia or Estonia), we would certainly cancel" the exchange, he said. "At this point I don't forsee any problems with the program going forward and it being safe for the participants."
Helping ease the cultural and linguistic differences between the 12 Soviets and the 12 Americans on the teams are their language skills. Those selected for both teams had to have some working knowledge of the other's language, Jarvis said.
"Two of the 10 Americans are actually emigrants from the Soviet Union and will be going back for the first time since they were very young," he said.
The Latvians are scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 27, with the Estonians to follow on Monday, July 2. A short stay in the nation's capital will include a trip to the Mall for the July Fourth fireworks extravaganza, as well as a Mannheim Steamroller concert at Wolf Trap Farm.