By DILLON TABISHHow does a boy growing up in Los Angeles find his way to a lifetime in the outdoors? Ask Jeff Mow, the new superintendent of Glacier National Park. The 54-year-old discovered the natural wonder of the wild in Yosemite National Park, and from there a lifelong interest flourished. After momentary run-ins with the Treasure State over his 25-year career in the National Park Service, Mow found his way here full-time, leading management and stewardship efforts in the Crown of the Continent. Flathead Living caught up with Mow as he settled in and prepared for his first busy tourism season in Glacier, which picks up steam in late spring.
Flathead Living: What do you remember from those early years in Montana?
Mow: It was the Big Sky. I remember that area around Dillon and Wisdom and the open space, the great intimate mountain ranges that are sprinkled throughout Montana. Those still stick with me.
FL: What was it about the National Park Service that drew you in?
Mow: Knowing what the mission of the National Park Service is, in terms of how it reaches out to people. Not only does it preserve these incredible resources, it also provides some incredible experiences. My own experience of standing in the Yosemite Valley as an eighth-grader and learning about geology, it was such a moment for me … It just sort of really sparked that passion and interest.
FL: Have you noticed the way people regard national parks as changing?
Mow: So many of the parks in Alaska have only been established since 1980, so there is still a lot of resentment, or folks who are not quite happy with how these areas that used to be people’s backyards are suddenly no longer that way. So for me it’s quite a contrast to come to the Flathead Valley and this part of Montana. I know there are a few folks who still have issues about how the park was established, but for the most part on this side of the park all I seem to hear about are people’s passions, their stories, their connections to Glacier and how long Glacier has been part of their family in terms of what they do every summer or just the traditions around the park. And clearly the (federal government) shutdown illustrated how passionate people are about national parks as well as what the value is of parks as economic drivers.
FL: Glacier has attracted more than 2 million visitors for four of the past five years? Can Glacier sustain that constant growth?
Mow: Well, that’s a good question. We certainly have issues that come with high levels of visitation. We have congested areas on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and we’ll be looking at that and asking, “are there some ways to do things differently?”
FL: Are you excited for your first summer season in Glacier?
Mow: Oh yeah. It will be exciting to get out there and see more of the country. There’s certainly many areas of the park that I haven’t seen yet. And we’re going to have lots of centennial celebrations this year between the chalets and Lake McDonald Lodge. This year Glacier will also be hosting a “Hands Across the Border” ceremony between Waterton and Glacier. There will be a lot to celebrate. I’m excited to get the family out there. There’s a lot of recreational opportunities that are more accessible here than what we were used to in Alaska.