Retiring Glacier superintendent: Firsthand vantage of park's splendor 'a must'

2012-12-16T06:30:00Z 2014-10-03T14:27:18Z Retiring Glacier superintendent: Firsthand vantage of park's splendor 'a must'By TRISTAN SCOTT of the Missoulian missoulian.com
December 16, 2012 6:30 am  • 

WEST GLACIER – It was by organic and geologic fortuity that the towering mountains of Glacier National Park were hewn during the last ice age, and without regard for the legacy bestowed on its millions of annual visitors, or the suite of wildlife its pristine ecosystem supports.

As Chas Cartwright’s decades-long career in public service draws to a close with him at the helm of Glacier National Park, he isn’t much concerned with the notion of legacy, either.

Cartwright set out as Glacier’s 21st superintendent not to carve out a monument to himself, but to serve as the park’s temporary guardian – to make a lasting contribution so the continent’s crown jewel not only endures another century, but thrives for future generations to enjoy.

“I’ve been driven mostly by my passion for the place and the people,” Cartwright said last week on the afternoon of his retirement party. “The owners of this place, the American people, they love Glacier Park. They are the present and future stewards of this place, and because of that I am confident Glacier will continue to be relevant, and that people will continue to be fierce advocates for this place.”

In his 4 1/2 years as superintendent, Cartwright, 62, squared off against a host of complex issues – the pressures of rising visitation and congestion, the reconstruction of Going-to-the-Sun Road, the protection of natural resources, the threat of invasive species, and the imposing weight of Canadian coal and gold mining interests in the Flathead River Basin.

Charged with striking a balance between preservation and use, Cartwright took on each problem with the park’s best interests in mind, his decisions informed only by his love for the place, and not for the sake of leaving behind a personal legacy.

Unlike many administrators, he experienced much of the park’s 1 million acres of wilderness and wildlife habitat firsthand, hiking nearly all of its 734 miles of trail and climbing its highest peaks whenever possible.

“For all of the things he achieved as an administrator, they were enhanced by his ability to get out and see the park,” said Jack Potter, who worked alongside numerous superintendents during his 41-year career at Glacier National Park before retiring in May 2011. “Many of the achievements during his career were augmented by his dedication to get out in the backcountry and hike. He could not have had so comprehensive an understanding without that dedication to seeing the resources firsthand. He really had a unique perspective that way, and I would say there is no other superintendent who did that.”

***

Cartwright’s resume spans more than 40 years of federal service, the last 26 years with the National Park Service, and includes five prior superintendent-ships. Since his appointment as custodian of Glacier in 2008, he has overseen nearly 450 permanent and seasonal employees, and was responsible for an annual budget of nearly $14 million.

In 2010, the park’s centennial year, a record-setting 2.2 million visitors passed through Glacier’s gates. Meanwhile, Cartwright was overseeing one of the biggest reconstruction efforts on the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road while seeking federal wilderness status for the park.

The wilderness designation was stymied in Congress, a major disappointment to Cartwright, but, undeterred, he soon helped usher in another permanent safeguard.

In 2010, Montana and British Columbia officials signed an agreement that made the Flathead River Basin off limits from energy and mineral mining.

For three decades, the North Fork of the Flathead River, which forms Glacier’s western border, had faced pressure from Canadian coal and gold mining interests. Such development would have put Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park’s status as a World Heritage Site at risk, and helped persuade B.C.’s Parliament to take mining off the table.

“I look at successes in the park, and they have all been a ‘we’ thing, not a ‘me’ thing,” Cartwright said said. “That win on the transboundary Flathead is a good example. It required Montana and B.C. to reach a memorandum of understanding. Nonprofits and scientists and land managers on both sides of the border played key roles. But that was the biggest success that I have ever been involved in during my career.”

The multiyear, $170 million overhaul of the Sun Road, begun in 2006, is still an estimated five years away from completion, and as visitation swells and the park’s infrastructure nears capacity, Cartwright’s successors will be left to contend with a range of issues.

Kym Hall, a 26-year veteran of the National Park Service and Glacier’s deputy superintendent since October 2011, will serve as interim superintendent beginning in January until a permanent successor is named, and Cartwright says she is as competent as anyone to face the inevitable challenges.

A comprehensive management plan for the Sun Road corridor is in its initial stages, and Cartwright says future leaders will have to make major changes to the park’s popular but unsustainable shuttle system, which was devised as a way to mitigate congestion while the road rehabilitation project got underway.

Meant to encourage visitors to park their cars at transit stations in Apgar and St. Mary, the shuttles had the unintended consequence of creating a whole new user group – visitors who use the service to shuttle between trailheads after through hikes – and reduced vehicle traffic by less than 1 percent.

The free shuttle system, which costs the park service $800,000 annually and is supported by $7.50 from visitor entry fees, is also overloading trails at Logan Pass and Avalanche Lake, as well as popular off-trail spots like Mount Oberlin.

“We have major congestion issues on Logan Pass. We have a parking lot full of cars and now we are pulsing thousands more people every day during the busy season up on to the pass,” Cartwright said. “Visitor use on the Highline Trail has increased exponentially, visitor use on the trail to Hidden Lake has gone through the roof, and a major concern is increased visitor use off trail. We have resource protection issues, and I have witnessed changes just in my 4 1/2 years here.”

Future leaders will need to consider charging for the service, he said, or construct other revenue channels.

***

Meanwhile, nearly all of the Blackfeet Reservation’s 1.5 million acres are leased for oil and gas exploration, and 18 exploratory wells have been hydraulically fractured on a tract of land directly adjacent to Glacier National Park’s eastern border.

The landscape could soon be bristling with wells and flare stacks, and Cartwright has closely followed the development by the Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corp., voicing his concern to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Although the decision is ultimately the tribe’s and Cartwright does not object to responsible development, he expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s piecemeal approach to environmental assessments, and has pressed Anschutz to disclose its intentions for full-field development and submit a broader assessment.

“We have asked for an environmental impact statement or at least an environmental assessment that covers the totality of their existing and remaining exploration program,” he said. “The full range of cumulative impacts needs to be analyzed and addressed before it suddenly explodes on the landscape. That is not acceptable right next to Glacier National Park.”

Degradation to air and water quality, fragmentation of grizzly bear corridors, and a compromised viewshed are all real concerns, he said.

The threat of aquatic invasive species – like lake trout, which have already invaded the park’s lakes, and zebra and quagga mussels, which have not yet entered the state but cannot be eradicated once they arrive – is an issue that “keeps me up at night,” Cartwright said, calling for better collaboration and more proactive action by state agencies.

As chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, which monitors and protects water quality in the Flathead watershed, Cartwright was able to have an influence on efforts to stave off aquatic invasive species, and implemented inspection stations throughout the park.

But none of those issues – not the presence or specter of invasive species, nor the deleterious effects of visitor congestion, nor the challenge of protecting the Crown of the Continent from development – would have seemed so grave from behind a desk. Nor would his successes have been so meaningful if he’d only dedicated his time to navigating the complex channels of bureaucracy.

Instead, Cartwright fostered his love for Glacier National Park and his passion for the outdoors the only way he knew how. By going outside.

“There are so many advantages to getting out in the field. You are more prone to make sound decisions when you really know what is happening on the ground,” he said. “I have been on so many fantastic hikes. I climbed Mount Reynolds with my facility manager. I got to the top of Cleveland, the highest point in the park with my facility manager and my trails foreman. Carving out time to get out in the park is a must, and I will argue forever that it has nothing but benefits.”

“If there is a legacy and I’m looked at as someone who got out and hiked the trails of Glacier, and made good decisions based on that, well, that sounds pretty good to me.”

Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 531-9745 or at tscott@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. chaffincreek
    Report Abuse
    chaffincreek - December 17, 2012 4:40 am
    hellgatenights: Get an education, learn to work not only harder but smarter, quit crying about your lack of forethought, ingenuity, and your lack of ability to improve yourself.
  2. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - December 16, 2012 8:13 am
    Wow! Among the "issues" facing the park, I noted no global warming alarmism. Tristan Scott is to be congratulated.

    There have been at least five major ice ages in the Earth's past. The Earth's orbital eccentricity, tilt, and precession vary in a pattern over thousands of years. Milankovitch cycles drove the ice age cycles; CO2 followed temperature change with a lag of some hundreds of years.
  3. montanamuralist
    Report Abuse
    montanamuralist - December 16, 2012 7:36 am
    Glad to have a guy running the Park that wants to get out and experience it. You can not run something so precious and not enjoy it and see it??? Seems pretty responsible to me. I have hiked in Glacier for 30 years and it does help you think. Perhaps a few of the commentators here should try that before they eat themselves up with cynicism and idiocy.
  4. hellgatenights
    Report Abuse
    hellgatenights - December 16, 2012 1:13 am
    Hmmmmm....how come when I go to work, I am just a stiff who puts in a lot of sweaty hours and pays alot of bills.......but when Hoss Cartwright goes to work, gets OVERPAID, Gets GREAT benefits, CANNOT ever be FIRED and was paid to go hiking in the park for 4.5 years......heis job is called "Service"

    Cartwright’s resume spans more than 40 years of federal service, the last 26 years with the National Park Service,

    Spud had nothing to do with the new highway and very little to do with the mining issues in Canada. In fact......what did Hoss do the short 4yrs? Nothing! He got paid to go HIKING. How else do you log almost 800 miles in four years (Summers only of course).

    Typical government parasite......but not a servant, he is an overpaid intern. The bum didn't save one single glacier from melting either.
Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on Missoulian.com

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian (Missoulian.com) may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in Missoulian.com's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on missoulian.com.

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Martin Kidston presents the latest news you need to know about today's headlines in abo…

Fred Allendorf's story

Fred Allendorf's story

Fred Allendorf confronts his journals for the first time since they were rescued from the Mo…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Kate Haake presents the latest news you need to know about today's headl…

Missoula County Spelling Bee 2015

Missoula County Spelling Bee 2015

Emma Peasley of Sussex School takes first place and Hans Skovlin takes second in the Missoul…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Martin Kidston presents the latest news you need to know about today's h…

Chinese LV Breakup

Chinese LV Breakup

Video by Rick Heilman.

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Kate Haake presents the latest news you need to know about today's headl…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

Les Schwab

Search our events calendar