The beauty of Grand Teton National Park is 'it belongs to the people'

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Nancy Wiechec

Wyo. (CNS) — Shirley Craighead knows a thing or two about grizzly bears. She
and the bears live in the same place.

live here and love it!” Craighead emphatically told Catholic News Service in
her home in Moose, just shy of the Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park.

a rare day that I don’t get up and say, ‘God, what am I doing here? How did I
ever get here, to live here?'”

her house, she has knickknacks featuring bears, pictures of bears and even a
pair of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of bears. Beside the shoes at her
doorway, lie cans of bear spray, a deterrent for use against aggressive bears.

came to know a lot about grizzlies and other wildlife from her late husband,
Frank Craighead, and his twin brother, John, who died this past September at
age 100. As researchers and conservationists, the Craighead brothers are known
for their studies of the greater Yellowstone area.

did the original study on grizzly bears and developed the radio tracking that
is used commonly nowadays,” she said.

tracking innovation has been used by scientists for decades, helping humans
understand animal migration and the systems in which they live.

a girl growing up in Massachusetts, Shirley Craighead read a lot of books. She
said she longed to have the same adventures and to see different places like
the characters she read about.

just stuck with me as I grew older.”

became a Maryknoll sister and went on to work in Chile. Her life also led her
to other places: Belize, El Salvador and Mexico.

in life, Shirley met Frank Craighead at a book lecture.

after six years of knowing him, we married and I moved out here,” she told CNS.
“That’s how I came to live in beautiful Grand Teton National Park.”

smiles large when talking about her love of the park.

for climbers and rafters probably more than anything. It is (also) definitely
for scenery, so the people who really want to stay in their cars or maybe just
get out and take some pictures, it serves them too. There are beautiful spots,
beautiful lakes that you can almost drive to. … It’s sort of a park for every

said there are wonderful fishing spots, canoeing, skiing and of course bird and
animal watching.

she seen a grizzly?

yes, yes, several times,” she said. “I’ve seen grizzlies both here in this park
and in Yellowstone.”

shared a specific story about taking a visiting priest on his first tour of
Grand Teton, and he was eager to spot a grizzly.

the tour, the two stopped at Oxbow Bend, a popular Teton viewpoint along a
meander of the Snake River. It’s a favorite spot for ospreys and bald eagles,
river otters, beavers, muskrats, elk and moose.

Shirley and her guest were treated to a spectacular surprise.

of a sudden from down in the bushes a mother grizzly and three cubs came out
and they were just grazing,” she recalled. “We just had marvelous, very safe
views because we were right beside our car.”

time, Shirley was away from her house when her neighbors spotted a grizzly
snooping around her porch.

was sorry to miss that opportunity,” she said and then added that if she had
been there, “hopefully I would have known he was there before I’d have opened
the door.”

considers all of Grand Teton to be special, but there are a couple of places
that make it “extra special.”

is the Catholic Chapel of the Sacred Heart, an all-log structure that has
served park visitors and the locals for nearly 80 years. She has been its
caretaker and sacristan for the past 15.

chapel is extremely interesting,” Shirley said. It’s one of very few active
churches that exist within a national park, a place that has given her the
opportunity to meet people from all over the world.

second is Cascade Canyon.

has always been one of my very favorite spots,” she said. “And it’s half the
country’s favorite trail too. … It’s very well used.”

said the canyon trail is challenging going up, but along the way hikers are
treated to a waterfall and open views at Inspiration Point.

you turn back into the Tetons and you have about three miles of just walking a
wonderful trail between these gorgeous mountains.”

the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Shirley reflected on the
wisdom U.S. leaders had in setting up the national park system.

one of the most wonderful things we did for the world,” she said. “It’s saving
God’s beautiful planet in so many different ways.”

Craighead house sits on an inholding, land that was privately owned before it
was included within the park boundaries.

Shirley Craighead said her land in many ways is our land.

doesn’t matter where our line of property is because basically it belongs to
all of us. And that’s the beauty of a national park; it belongs to the people.”

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Wiechec on Twitter: @nancywiechec.

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