In the fall of 2007, after seven years as a ranger naturalist in Yellowstone National Park, Michael Leach’s vision for a nonprofit that worked on the ground to inspire the next generation of Yellowstone guardians became a reality when he started Yellowstone Country Guardians (YCG), a grassroots 501c3 nonprofit. Based in Gardiner, Montana, YCG’s education and outreach programs focused on youth to inspire local communities to nurture the wildness and spirit of Yellowstone Country.
Michael served as the Executive Director of YCG for five years. During that time, under his leadership and with the support of an incredible board of directors and amazing cadre of volunteers, YCG became known for its energetic, non-conventional programming and its fresh approach to environmental education that resonated with teens. Believing that a healthy Yellowstone Ecosystem is interdependent with healthy Yellowstone communities on a human level, YCG strived to bring the human element back into the conservation discussion by inspiring the youth of the region to understand and appreciate their responsibility as stewards of one of the wildest landscapes left on our planet.
During YCG’s five-year run, Michael and his cadre of volunteers and board members facilitated 1,336 students and over 8,078 student hours and nearly 500 hours of community service that had direct impact, on the ground, throughout the Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Over the course of those five years, the YCG family saw lives changed, youth empowered, and young people become impassioned about the amazing landscape they call home. Michael and his team heard and watched students pledge to become stewards of Yellowstone; they saw the ripple effect this had across the region.
As a formal entity, Yellowstone Country Guardians was dissolved in 2012. But Yellowstone Country Guardians was more than a nonprofit. More than its programs. It has become a movement. Michael started YCG in hopes of inspiring a new surge of Yellowstone guardians and wildland stewards. It’s safe to say those goals were not only reached, they were exceeded—and as the following testimonials from students and the messages that have poured in since the announcement of the dissolution attest, the Yellowstone Country Guardian movement lives on in the hearts, minds and spirits of all of us audacious enough to call ourselves guardians of Yellowstone Country!
YCG Student Testimonies
“Before the River Guardian Fly Fishing School, I wasn’t motivated to keep the fish populations and the waters healthy or unpolluted. I just really didn’t care. But after spending a week with Coach Mike and the YCG Crew, I now feel an unbreakable bond between myself and nature.I now am motivated completely to do my part and teach others how to keep the watersheds of MT and the world’s populations of organisms healthy so that future generations of people do their part and hopefully the cycle will continue. I am so very thankful to have the opportunity to become a Yellowstone Country River Guardian… Thanks Coach!”
Kelley 17, Livingston,
2010 and 2011 River Guardian Fly Fishing School participant
“We are so incredibly excited to teach others about being guardians of Yellowstone Country and we are so thankful that you have had such a profound impact on our lives. We can’t wait to get into the world and be bear educators. Coach, you and YCG inspire me to be greater than I could have ever imagined.”
Brittany 17, Livingston
Yellowstone Leadership Challenge
“Yellowstone Country Guardians has helped me in many ways since I have been accepted in the YCG family! I have noticed a big attitude difference! I am more open to letting others in my life. I have a better outlook on life. I have discovered more about the special place that we are lucky enough to live in and hope to be a part of protecting it!”
Rachelle, 17 Livingston
Yellowstone Leadership Challenge
“Through the River Guardian Fly Fishing School I gained an understanding of the beautiful watershed of Yellowstone Country. I also learned what it means to protect, cherish and love the Yellowstone River.”
Ryan 16, Belgrade
River Guardian Fly Fishing School 2011