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Long-time Yellowstone ranger dies in park after heart attack

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on April 11, 2012 at 7:44 am with No Comments »
April 11, 2012 7:44 am

From Yellowstone National Park:

Gary Nelson, a long-time Yellowstone law enforcement ranger, passed away unexpectedly on April 4th. Gary suffered a fatal heart attack while stopped along the West Entrance Road in the park last Wednesday morning. He was just 56 years old.

Gary was born in Salem, Oregon, in 1955 and graduated from Oregon State University.  Gary’s love of photography and elk drew him to Yellowstone in the late 1970’s, and he began working at the Hamilton Stores in 1979 to “support his photography habit” according to his brother Rick Nelson.

Gary began his NPS Yellowstone career in 1982 as a seasonal laborer.   Between 1982 and 2012, he worked as a laborer, maintenance worker, general park ranger, and dispatcher, and in 1994 became a law enforcement ranger.  Gary only left Yellowstone one time in his 30 year career, which was when he took a temporary position as a lead forestry technician at the Natchez Trace in 1991 for three months.

Gary worked in many park locations through the years, but spent significant amounts of time in the Grant Village, Old Faithful and Madison areas of the park.  Gary was a fixture in Yellowstone and known for his love of underwater diving, his stories about warm trips to tropical dive locations in the middle of the long Yellowstone interior winters, his hunting escapades along the Grassy Lake Road, his expertise with servicing weapons for park staff, and his extensive knowledge and history of Yellowstone.

Gary is survived by his brother, Rick Nelson, and Rick’s wife Sue, by his many friends and “Yellowstone Family,” by his sister Susan Nelson, and by his constant companion – his dog “Cooper.”

A celebration and remembrance of Gary’s life and influence on Yellowstone will be held on Saturday April 14th at 10 a.m. in the Madison Amphitheater.  A traditional “Ranger Potluck” luncheon will follow the remembrance at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.

In lieu of flowers, Rick Nelson requests that donations be made to the Yellowstone Park Foundation (222 East Main St., Suite 301, Bozeman, MT  59715 or in Gary’s honor to continue their unwavering support of rangers’ efforts to protect Yellowstone.

Condolences can be sent to Rick Nelson and his family at 55010 Lazy River West, Sun River, OR  97707.


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