Harlan leading a Boat Tour on Yellowstone Lake. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit

Harlan Kredit: A Path to Stewardship

Harlan Kredit was raised in Lynden, the epicenter of conservatism in the rural northwest corner of Washington State. Lawns were expected to be manicured, but lawn mowing on Sunday was forbidden. With 29 churches, many of which are Christian Reformed, Lynden is said to have one of the country’s highest per capita ratio of churches—one church per about every .09 square miles. In 1981, Lynden passed an ordinance outlawing dancing in establishments where alcohol was served. Calling dancing “evil,” a city council member observed: “I’d like to dance, but I see the harms and evils that come from it. Like guys dancing with other guys’ wives, so I don’t know what can come of it.”

“Every morning, I have a bowl of Wheat Chex and take on the world. It’s exciting for me to get up and think, ‘So, what’s going to happen today?’”

The Man 


Harlan leading a Boat Tour on Yellowstone Lake. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit


Harlan graduated from Lynden Christian High School (LCHS) and Calvin College. After teaching away from his hometown for 11 years, he returned to Lynden to teach high school science for 45 years at his alma mater. Harlan sent generation after generation of students home with the understanding that there are differing views on the age of the earth and its inhabitants. He also coached track and was the LCHS athletic director for 30 years, a high-profile role in the Lynden community.  In 2017, Harlan retired but stayed on the payroll at a dollar a year so he could continue to serve as a substitute teacher and drive a school bus on field trips.

Starting in 1972, Harlan began a second job as a summer ranger at Yellowstone National Park, a position that continues to this day.

Linda, Harlan’s beloved wife and pillar of support, died in April 2023 after 57 years of marriage. They attended the 3rd Christian Reformed Church of Lynden. Together, they had two daughters and a son.

Harlan’s hobbies include mountaineering and backcountry exploring, beekeeping, repairing old cars, and restoring antique player pianos. He is a devout Christian whose religious faith is central to his life. As a student said: “His Christianity is not just there because he teaches in a Christian school, not put-on, never pushy; just always evident in everything he does.”  So, who is this person, Harlan Kredit? He is a legendary teacher, an uncompromising conservationist, a man of science, an accomplished outdoorsman, a national park ranger for 51 years, the product of a very conservative community, and a person for whom Christian ethics are essential to who he is.

The Teacher

Teaching through ‘sweat equity’. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit


Whether at Yellowstone or Lynden Christian High, Harlan is a teacher. Whether describing to visitors the microbial life in Yellowstone Lake’s thermal vents or working with his students to release coho salmon fry in Lynden’s Fishtrap Creek, Harlan is, first and foremost, a passionate teacher.

“At heart, I am a teacher. I believe I was ‘called’ to be a teacher and, particularly, one who emphasized stewardship and conservation. I am a man of faith and have always believed that God has made a beautiful world and stewardship is one of our highest responsibilities towards his creation.” 

While hiking in a meadow on Church Mountain at the age of 12, Harlan saw a black bear for the first time. “That scene is vividly etched in my mind. At a very young age, I decided I wanted to be a biology teacher. God has let me live out my dream of teaching science from a stewardship perspective in Christian high schools.”

When Harlan returned home after 15 years away, he found that Fishtrap Creek, which had been jammed with salmon when he was a boy, was practically devoid of fish. What had become little more than a drainage ditch became an inspiration for him. “I wanted to develop some hands-on programs for my science classes that were practical, useful, exciting, and beneficial to the community. I wanted them to be based on sound Christian stewardship principles, such as fulfilling the biblical command to ‘tend the garden.’”  Fishtrap Creek fit the bill and became the centerpiece of Harlan’s teaching and stewardship at Lynden Christian.

This Stream is in Your Hands. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit

This many-year, holistic student restoration and conservation project has been handed down to successive LCHS classes for over 40 years. With a focus on the science, the project began with his students compiling a 200-page survey of the 12-mile length of the stream, mapping such things as erosion concerns, riparian vegetation, and large, woody debris. The project has developed from a small salmon egg box at the high school to an enclosed, fully functioning coho salmon hatchery. So far, students have released approximately three million coho salmon fry into the stream, removed tons of invasive vegetation, and planted over 10,000 native trees and shrubs on the banks of Fishtrap Creek. They have engaged the community with a popular brochure describing the project, installing over 1,400 warning signs on the city’s storm drains and signs at every bridge crossing declaring that THIS STREAM IS IN YOUR HANDS.

Over the years, approximately 750 senior biology students have managed the hatchery, tending to the fish five times a day, seven days a week, regardless of weather. About 5,400 younger students have worked on stream restoration, and solid classroom science backs up the hands-on work necessary to understand salmon biology and stream restoration.

Each year, Harlan has taken students on field trips—in the fall to the Cascades to see the origin of the river system which includes Fishtrap Creek, and in the spring for three days camping on the Olympic Peninsula to witness where freshwater delivers salmon into the salty sea. In Harlan’s retirement, the project continues with his support.

Harlan leading stream restoration at Fishtrap Creek. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit

Looking back, Harlan reflected: “Our stream restoration project has become a meaningful way for thousands of students to make a connection between biological science and the community in which they live. We hope that connection will help them become more productive and discerning citizens. All I have been trying to do is to train my students to be better stewards. I would like to believe that they have learned a valuable lesson in how to take care of God’s world. And yes, the salmon are returning.”  

 “My teaching style is active, enthusiastic, and passionate. Kids should learn through ‘sweat equity’ by going outside the classroom. To have students buy into a project, they must have ownership of it, and that comes from actually doing the work. Blisters are OK.” 

Harlan is emphatic “that our young people need to understand how critical conservation issues are to our health and the survival of the planet…. My goal is to cultivate a sense of stewardship with these kids, that they realize how fragile the world is and they are accountable for their actions.” His deep-seated Christian faith drives his commitment. “I believe that one day God will ask each of us what we have done to tend his garden. What an exciting and enormous challenge and blessing to be able to work with our students in God’s vineyard, helping to restore a fallen world.”

Harlan’s stewardship/conservation teaching philosophy has distinguished him and led to national recognition. He has received over 20 teaching awards, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation’s highest commendation. He was the first teacher from Washington inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

On the occasion of Harlan’s Presidential Award in 2004, Lynden Christian’s Principal noted that “He brings the classroom alive for students, and he has an amazing ability to get kids excited about not only biology but taking care of the world.” But perhaps this comment from one of his students says it best: “What truly sets Mr. Kredit apart is that as incredibly well as he teaches biology, he teaches life even better.”

The Ranger 

Celebrating 50 Years of Service in Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit


 In 1782, President Grant signed a bill creating Yellowstone National Park, the first U.S. National Park, indeed the first national park in the world. Harlan has been a ranger at Yellowstone for 51 years, slightly more than a third of the life of the park. Almost certainly he knows more about Yellowstone and has spoken to more park visitors than anyone ever.

In the summer of 2021 and again in 2023, I lived with Harlan for a week in a Yellowstone staff trailer park, often exploring on my own but also watching Harlan at work. We had just sat down to dinner one evening when Harlan got a call on his two-way radio. “Five grizzles on a bison carcass in the Hayden Valley.” We dropped our forks and were in Harlan’s truck headed south in a matter of seconds. A crowd had gathered on a hill watching the scene across the valley—a large, dominant male on the carcass, two grizzlies nearby making occasional feints toward the food, and two smaller, lower-ranking bears lying down farther away. Though off duty, Harlan immediately assumed his ranger role, explaining to visitors the social hierarchy of grizzly bears.

Bison Jam in Yellowstone. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit

On the shore of Lake Yellowstone, 250 people came together in July 2022 to celebrate Harlan’s 50 years as a Yellowstone Ranger. The Park Superintendent presented Harlan with his third Superintendent’s Outstanding Achievement Award: “Harlan has distilled this art [of interpreting the Park to people] to a relatively simple principle. If your passion for the park leads you to ever greater breadths and depths of knowledge, your passion and love will be evident to all you encounter…. Nearly 150 million visitors have come to Yellowstone during Harlan’s career. His countless visitor interactions inspire thousands from around the globe each year. His love of Yellowstone, whether in the classroom, on a hike, walk, or wildlife jam, has inspired people to learn about Yellowstone and become future stewards of its preservation.”    

The celebration prompted Harlan to reflect on his long tenure in Yellowstone: “Perhaps the most fulfilling for me is that four generations of my family now have connections to the park. Our three kids all grew up here and learned to swim on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. All three at one time worked for the park service. My daughter Karen and her husband are still park rangers, and my 15-year-old grandson recently began as a volunteer. In 1971, my first summer, my parents visited. Now, with my grandkids and my daughter, we’re fishing in the same place where I fished with my dad and mom 50 years ago. Yellowstone has given me a sense of place. It is where I belong. We are a Yellowstone family. This park is who we are.”

The head of Yellowstone’s Education and Youth Programs knows Harlan well. “His in-depth experience and knowledge bring incomparable richness to Harlan’s interactions with park visitors and with his peers and colleagues. Harlan is a naturalist in the best and richest sense of that word. It takes a love of natural history and enjoyment of spending time in the great outdoors to become a naturalist at the elite level of Harlan’s knowledge and skills.”


Harlan and rapt visitors to Yellowstone. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit


Harlan’s unique relationship with Yellowstone has included escorting various VIPs around the park, including National Parks Service Directors and the Secretary General of the United Nations, and participating in the visits of Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama. When Secretary of the Interior Deborah Haaland concluded her presentation at the Old Faithful Visitor Center in 2022, without warning, she called out Harlan and asked to hear about his Yellowstone experience.

I have watched Ranger Kredit talk to countless park visitors. Impromptu, he weaves together stories, history, science, and stewardship with a freshness and enthusiasm that seems to say, “You are the first I have ever told this to.” The presentation invariably becomes a conversation—whether the subject is the microbiology of the thermal vents at the bottom of Lake Yellowstone or why Hayden Valley is a great place to see bears and wolves. As Harlan tells it, the geology determines the biology. Glaciers carved a great basin; then, a glacial dam impounded a gigantic lake. Very, very fine sediment collected on the bottom of the lake. When the ice impounding the lake melted, the silted lakebed remained like a piece of Visqueen plastic on the former lake bottom. Water can’t penetrate the Visqueen-like layer, so there is enough moisture for grass to grow even in the middle of the dry summer, and the sediment keeps trees from getting a foothold. Because the grass is there, the bison and elk are there. Because the bison and elk are there, the wolves and bears are there. Thus, the geology of these glacially dammed lakes makes for excellent big-game watching in the Hayden Valley.

Harlan and Grizzly Bear. Photo courtesy Harlan Kredit


While visiting with Harlan in 2021, his 49th ranger year at Yellowstone, he invited me to a conference center in the Tetons where he was scheduled to “give a talk” to a gathering of staff from various Salvation Army summer nature camps. I could not shake my mental incongruity between Salvation Army summer nature camps and my embedded images of bell-ringing Salvation Army Santas with red kettles in front of a grocery store—an incongruity that likely never occurred to Harland.

 With dinner tables cleared, the camp staff settled in for a lecture on ecosystems, a lecture that never happened. Instead, Harlan asked 12 volunteers to come forward and hold a placard with the name of an animal printed large on it. BEAVER, BEAR, ELK, WOLF, BUTTERFLY, BISON, DEER, MOUSE, GROUND SQUIRREL, COYOTE, RAVEN. Right away, the audience became participants. Harlan’s passion for the subject was contagious. What was he up to? Harlan asked the WOLF cardholder to step back. What happens to the ecosystem when the WOLF is eliminated? The volunteers began to puzzle this out. The audience pitched in. Someone got it—the ELK population explodes. How does that affect the Yellowstone ecosystem? Someone got it—the ELK eat all the willows along the streams. Ecological impact? On whom? After some ruminations, TROUT and BEAVER. And so on, until wolves were reintroduced, all the cards played, and the broken ecological connections mended. Harlan only asked questions and amplified answers. Everyone was treated with respect and affirmation. The camp staff explored ecological connections and discovered the consequences of disruption and repair on their own.

I sat in awe, watching a master teacher remove all egocentricity from teaching and gently guide a diverse group of people in learning important ecological and stewardship principles for themselves that they will not soon forget.

When I asked Harlan whether he considered himself a teacher at Yellowstone as well as at Lynden Christian High, he responded: “One of the biggest reasons I have enjoyed my work in Yellowstone each summer is because it complements my teaching. I do consider myself a teacher in Yellowstone because I see my role as someone who is trying to educate our park visitors about the importance of “wild lands” and to instill in them a love and appreciation for the natural environment. That is one of my main goals in the classroom as well. We take care of what we appreciate, and one way to accomplish that is to better understand the complexity of life. I am very passionate about stewardship and will seek any forum or setting to promote it, whether in my classroom or in Yellowstone.”

Now more than ever, humanity’s most important task is conservation—protecting and enhancing ecological systems and biodiversity. People can travel many paths to come to this challenge. Harlen’s life beautifully illustrates one of those paths.

Rand Jack grew up in northwest Louisiana with a stunted view of nature. Visiting Shi Shi Beach and Point of the Arches in 1967 changed his relationship with the natural world. Time spent in Yellowstone with Ranger Harlan Kredit deepened that relationship in profound ways.


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