One summer afternoon in 1998, I was wandering around the Lewis Lake Campground in Yellowstone doing a hazard tree survey. The point was to identify the lodgepole pines that could possibly fall in a violent windstorm. Trees that fall in the night and kill campers in their tents are the catalyst for more than one lawsuit in the National Park System. I had with me a Student Conservation Association volunteer. SCA’s are volunteers in the parks and are generally students in college. Annie was a junior at the University of Michigan but she had almost grown up in Yellowstone because her father was a seasonal ranger. Sometimes she was difficult to work with because she was the volunteer, I was the ranger, but she knew a lot more about some things than I did.
The Lewis Lake campground where we were working has several water hydrants where the campers get their water. That year had been an exceptionally wet one and for part of the spring the campground had been partially underwater. The water supply was suspect and it was not safe to drink without boiling until such time as that it could be tested. Giardia lamblia was known to be present in surface water elsewhere in the region. There were signs posted throughout the campground informing the campers of the danger. Because Annie and I were wandering around the campground in our uniforms, we got asked about the subject frequently. We answered the questions to the best of our ability. Giardia is a rough affliction. It causes intense intestinal pain and diarrhea. I know because I’ve had it.
Annie, at one point, got a little too enthusiastic when she saw a gentleman filling his water bottles from the hydrant. She walked up to the visitor and told him, "Be sure to boil that water before you use it. Water in this campground is known to cause gonorrhea."
As you can imagine, the three of us gave each other funny looks for a few brief moments, all of us totally puzzled. Annie didn’t realize what she had said and was clueless, but the visitor was horrified. He must have already had some of the water. When I explained to the visitor that Annie probably meant giardia, not gonorrhea, we all had a good laugh.