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A New Glacier Partnership
Recent appointments to Glacier National Park leadership look toward a bright future
Marc Ducharme, general manager for Xanterra’s Glacier operation, speaks to a group during a Whitefish Chamber of Commerce lunch on Feb. 6. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon
 WHITEFISH — At Glacier National Park, a new leadership team has emerged and pledged to forge ahead in the years to come with climate change, infrastructure and philanthropy topping the list of priorities.

The leadership trio addressed Flathead Valley residents at a Whitefish Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week. They were Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow, whose previous post was as superintendent of Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska; Xanterra Parks and Resorts General Manager Marc Ducharme, whose company was awarded a 16-year contract to operate concessions that for 32 years had been managed by Glacier Park, Inc., where Ducharme previously worked; and Mark Preiss, who last year was named chief executive officer of the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

A 25-year veteran of the National Park Service, Mow said his first experience at Glacier Park was in 1988, when the Red Bench Fire burned more than 37,000 acres inside and outside the park near Polebridge. He was working as a seasonal ranger at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and was called down to help suppress the fire.

“Twenty-five years ago, the last thing I expected was to get sent down to Glacier National Park to work on the Red Bench fire, but they were drawing resources from everywhere,” Mow said.

Today, rising temperatures and shrinking budgets are at the top of the Park Service’s challenges, and Glacier is no exception. Mow said he wanted to position Glacier at the forefront of efforts to educate visitors and the public about the perils that a warming world presents to Glacier’s iconic species and pristine ecosystem.

“So many of us superintendents in Alaska really cannot ignore (climate change),” he said. “It’s really in our face. And we need to be talking about how to plan for it.”

Mow said he was grateful that park administration wouldn’t have to chafe under the constraints of sequestration this year, but added that budget woes will remain an ongoing concern to the agency.

Other changes on the horizon include transferring visitor services currently housed in a small building at Apgar to the more spacious Apgar transit center. The Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor study will also be released for public comment next fall.

With Xanterra’s new contract, the concessions giant has taken over operation and maintenance of the park’s iconic fleet of Red Buses, as well as its five hotels and lodges, and its food, beverage and retail outlets throughout the park.

The Red Buses, which for years were stored in East Glacier, will be maintained and housed in a facility in Columbia Falls. The company has hired 35 full-time employees, but will add another 30 workers when the Columbia Falls administrative facility opens.

“We’re calling it the Taj Mahal,” he said of the new administrative facility.

The company will likely convert the former Pamida store into the offices, but he has not yet “pulled the trigger.”

An additional 600 seasonal staffers will come on board, including some 80 to 100 international workers from Europe and Asia.

Preiss said the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the park’s lone philanthropic partner, came about from a merger between the Glacier National Park Fund and Glacier Park Association at the beginning of last year. He said the productivity of that merger is already evident.

Last year, the conservancy raised $500,000 in support of the park, and projected raising $800,000 this year.

“That’s not small change,” he said.

He echoed Mow in his commitment to promoting not only discussion but also on-the-ground action to deal with climate change.

“If we’re going to talk about the next generation of stewards, we need to talk about climate change,” he said.
 
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