Park Service officials scoff at the notion the famous geyser would ever need help, and point out the damage that can be caused by dumping things into the park's thermal features — not to mention that venturing near geysers and hot springs is often very dangerous.
"It suggests that it's OK to pour some substance into a thermal feature," Park Service spokesman Al Nash said. "We've spent decades trying to educate visitors about the fact that it's harmful to the feature and that it's dangerous for anyone to take an action like that."
Metamucil's manufacturer, Procter & Gamble Co., suggests Old Faithful's guardians lighten up a bit.
"It was pretty over the top," said Greg Allgood, associate director of the company's Health Sciences Institute. "Anybody would get it. It was a joke."
Allgood has proposed resolving the dispute by adding subtext to the commercial that says all Yellowstone visitors should obey the park rules. As of Thursday he was waiting to hear a response from the Park Service.
In the ad, a woman asks a ranger why Old Faithful is so predictably regular. The ad flashes back to the ranger pouring in Metamucil earlier in the day and the ad concludes — naturally — with an impressive eruption.
"We tested the commercial with consumers and got some very favorable responses," Allgood said. He said Procter & Gamble wants to keep using it.
The commercial was created last year by the international marketing firm Publicis. No filming took place in Yellowstone and the commercial did not involve a real ranger.
Allgood, who as a graduate student studied the bacteria in Yellowstone's hot springs, said he understands the reasons for the rules against approaching Yellowstone's thermal features. "I have a love of Yellowstone and don't want them to do that," he said.
Although warnings are conspicuously posted around Yellowstone's accessible thermal features, careless people are badly burned in the park almost every year.
In 2001, a man scalded his arms trying to rescue the family dog after it bolted from a motor home and jumped in a thermal pool. In 2000, a summer employee was killed and two others were severely burned when they jumped into a thermal pool thinking it was not especially hot.
Park officials also are interested in preserving Yellowstone's unique features, noting that hot springs and geysers have been damaged by tampering and vandalism.
One is the Morning Glory Pool, which was once a brilliant blue.
"People have thrown things into that pool, which has changed the pool and has cooled it down where it is no longer that beautiful morning glory color," said Yellowstone spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews.
Even at Old Faithful, visitors in the 1870s would drop in branches and stones and watch them be fired out as the geyser erupted. Such activity was one reason the U.S. Army took over management of Yellowstone in 1886, according to Matthews.
Geysers typically erupt when cool groundwater flows downward and piles on top of a pocket of superheated groundwater. Steam builds up to the point where it eventually explodes upward like a pressure cooker.
Old Faithful is not as regular as many believe. It erupts every 45 minutes to two hours, on average every 92 minutes. Park rangers predict an eruption based on the height of the previous eruption and are usually able to do so within 10 minutes.
By Mead Gruver