WEST GLACIER — Retiring Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow has a sense of satisfaction for what his staff accomplished during his eight-year assignment. But he also looks ahead to the challenges his successors are going to face in the years to come.
If there's a development historians will notice about the past decade in Glacier it's the explosion of visitor traffic. Stats not lost on Mow, who took over just as the Park Service was completing a major reconstruction of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
"We were the first natural park west of the Mississippi to have over 1,000,000 visitors in a month, and I think we could clearly articulate capacity. We'd met it," Mow told MTN News.
Even with fire closures, and COVID-19, people didn't stop coming. Gate closures, shuttles and even limited parking didn't stop the crush, promoting Mow's administration to implement ticketed entry last summer. It's a plan that had some bumps but some good reactions too.
"We got a lot of support from moving forward with the Visitor Use Management Plan which resulted in ticketed entry in 2021," Mow said, recalling how staff received thanks from people welcome to have a human helping them figure out the new system.
Looking ahead, Mow says Glacier and its partners will need to continue messaging to give visitors options, "you know the Going-to-the-Sun-Road is just the tip of the iceberg and it's helping people understand all that lies underneath."
Of course, Glacier National Park isn't alone, with other western parks also being flooded with additional visitors. He sees that as a big question going forward. "How can we still provide that you know, quintessential Glacier experience for as many people as we can without, you know, crushing the resource?"
Throughout the course of his career, Mow has focused on the question of climate change and how that's going to affect national parks. He sees that as one of the big impacts facing Glacier in the decades to come. Fires are the obvious, but not the only, impacts.
"But I wouldn't be surprised if it comes in some other form or dynamic. You know, we're seeing more extreme storms, more extreme weather," Mow notes. "I've always said what we'll see out of climate change is we'll turn up the volume on the weather. So it doesn't matter, whether it's warm or cold. It doesn't matter whether it's wet or dry, it's going to be more intense."
Mow also hopes his successors continue to work at telling the tribal story.
"A lot of opportunity and continuing to work with the Blackfeet and our other tribes, in terms of, you know, telling that story of the landscape." Telling that story that goes back beyond, or before the National Park, is going to be incredibly important moving forward."
During his Glacier assignment, Mow also chaired the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, as his colleagues wrestle with growing grizzly numbers.
"Well, I know you know there's a lot of pressure to delist the grizzly in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem," Mow said. "At the same time, I think there's a lot of energy putting into how do we make this landscape more secure for not just grizzly bears, but lynx and wolverine? Other species as well."
Given his experience — and decision to retire in the Flathead — we asked whether volunteering is part of that future.
"Absolutely. Probably volunteering a little bit," Mow said with his trademark smile. "You know, I've certainly been approached by some NGO's you know who would certainly you know, like me to work with them a little bit. But I've told him I need a couple months, you know to catch my breath. I guess so."