New king of the mountain 

Chas Cartwright prepares to take Glacier’s reins

On January 3, Mick Holm retired after six years as Glacier National Park’s superintendent.

With budget shortfalls, encroaching development, potential pollution threatening to spew down from mines to the north, a complicated $240 million highway project to wrangle, and the park’s namesake glaciers disappearing due to global warming, who would want to captain this ship?

Chas Cartwright does, and he can’t wait to start.

“It’s a lifetime opportunity,” Cartwright says. “Glacier is one of the crown jewels in the National Park System. I’ve spent most of my career in the West, and the lure of coming back for a challenging assignment like Glacier was simply too good to pass by.”

Cartwright, whose hiring was announced by the National Park Service March 25, currently serves as the superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. He will begin his job at Glacier in May.

He grew up in Detroit, Mich., and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology from Michigan State University. At 22, he headed west to Happy Camp, Calif., for his first job with the Forest Service, helping with an archeological survey along the Klamath River, and serving as camp cook. He went on to work for the Bureau of Land Management and, ultimately, the Park Service, where he’s stayed for the last 21 years.

Cartwright started off as an NPS archeologist at Utah’s Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and Natural Bridges National Monument, a job he enjoyed. But, he says, “It was clear that running a park would be a very fun and challenging thing to do.”

Glacier will be the sixth park Cartwright has managed (after Shenandoah, Dinosaur and Devils Tower national monuments, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and Hovenweep National Monument). He says he still enjoys the work. “It’s the best thing, most exciting thing I’ve done in my life,” he says, adding, with a laugh, “Other than get married.”

Cartwright says controversy is inevitable for a superintendent, and he’s run into a few, including one during his tenure at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. While working as superintendent there in 2002, an article in High Country News (HCN) and a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) stated that he planned to eliminate the park’s nine-person paleontology program and farm the work out to private contractors.

Cartwright says HCN and PEER got it wrong, and says HCN printed a correction, noting that the program only had two paleontologists, that only one position had been cut, and that no work would be farmed out to private entities.

Jane Ratzlaff, executive director of the Glacier National Park Fund, says she’s pleased about Cartwright’s appointment. “My counterpart at Shenandoah, the executive director of the Shenandoah Park Fund speaks very, very highly of him,” Ratzlaff says.

Will Hammerquist, Glacier Program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), echoes that opinion. “I’ve heard nothing but great things about him,” he says.

In particular, Hammerquist says he’s heard that Cartwright has been good at building bridges among the many groups with interests in a national park. “The similarity between Shenandoah and Glacier, although it might not be obvious at first, is that Shenandoah is a big, sprawling long park that’s smack dab in the middle of a lot of diverse communities,” Hammerquist says. “That ability to reach out and connect with diverse interest groups over a large area is going to be an asset for him.”

This is exactly what Cartwright says he’ll do. “I think the job is primarily one of building relationships with the folks that work there and with all the folks that care about the place—the communities, nonprofit partners, the tribes,” he says.

Perhaps the most important issues Cartwright will be dealing with are developments around the park that could lead to habitat fragmentation—including a gravel pit that borders Glacier to the west and residential development in surrounding forestlands.

He’ll also have to cope with the park’s receding glaciers, which he says he’ll use as a tool for teaching the public about climate change. And he’ll be faced with the threat of Canadian coal mining and other industrial development in one of the park’s primary watersheds, the Canadian Flathead.

Cartwright declined to discuss specifics about these issues, saying he needed to meet with his staff first. But he was willing to talk about global warming.

“Parks are great places for people to go and have fun, but they’re also great places for people to go and learn,” Cartwright says. “And seeing the impact of global climate change at Glacier, I can’t imagine a better teaching opportunity.”

Mick Holm, the outgoing superintendent, noted that Cartwright will also have to handle a $950,000 shortfall in the park’s maintenance budget and deal with predicted shortfalls for rehabilitating Going-to-the-Sun Road, due to rising construction costs.

Holm noted that, “For a superintendent in a park like Glacier, with all of its complex issues, it takes a couple years to really get your arms around everything. At least it did for me.”

His advice to Cartwright for handling the million-acre park, its $12 million budget, and the host of challenges?

“There’s an excellent staff up there,” Holm says. “Certainly anyone with experience would realize that and draw heavily upon the knowledge and ability of the staff you have there.”
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