Park group rolls out strategic plan

Shared vision

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The Glacier National Park Conservancy has rolled out a strategic framework for working with the National Park Service, and several of the organization’s leaders say it represents a commitment to a long-term partnership.

The strategic framework for 2014 through 2016 is outlined in a glossy brochure that will soon be distributed to donors. It lays out the conservancy’s goals and tactics for addressing the park’s most pressing needs over time.

It’s an approach that’s significantly different from the way philanthropic support for the park was handled prior to a merger between the former Glacier National Park Fund and the Glacier Natural History Association that became official in January 2013. The merged groups became the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Mark Preiss, the conservancy’s chief executive officer, described the old approach as more of a short-term “transactional” relationship, with the park essentially preparing wish lists for project and program support and submitting it to its partners for approval.

Now the conservancy is taking a more long-term approach to address issues facing the park with far more interaction between park and conservancy leaders.

“It’s a heightened dialogue with the park,” conservancy board member Bob Nystuen during a visit with the Inter Lake editorial board this week.

“It’s more of a shared vision ... We want to put our heads together,” Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said.

Preiss recalls a recent meeting with board members and all of Glacier’s division bosses to discuss future areas of partnership, and he notes that type of collaboration didn’t happen before.

“The conservancy didn’t go through a merger for the heck of it,” Preiss said. “The merger is about being a better partner to the park.”

One example of a long-term concerted effort is in attracting “millenials” and young children to Glacier and the national park system. Preiss and the board members said there are estimates that more than 50 percent of youths in the Flathead Valley have never had a Glacier Park experience.

Last year, the conservancy’s Discover Glacier Education Program helped bring 7,980 students from 51 schools to the park with travel grants. This year, it’s expected that 39 grants will be awarded.

But outreach to youths is not as simple as it might seem.

While the conservancy and park staff can “find” students during the school year for snowshoeing and other activities, it is much more difficult to find students during the park’s famously busy summer season, when kids are out of school. Future efforts will be made to bring youths to the park during summer.

The long-term goal is to build a future constituency for Glacier Park, and Preiss said a crucial ingredient for doing so is getting more people to have an experience in the park.

Preiss said the conservancy will continue to support short-term projects and programs.

This year’s conservancy grant total of $227,000 will include support for repair of bridle path overpasses at Many Glacier Hotel, the Glacier Astronomy Program, interpretation interns, repairs at three historic fire lookouts, relocation of visitor services to the Apgar Transit Center and rehabilitation work at the Fish Creek Amphitheater.

Nystuen said the conservancy board also wants to continue to be nimble, capable of providing emergency support to the park if necessary, as it did last year in providing funding to ensure a full snow-plowing schedule to clear Going-to-Sun Road when the park was faced with federal sequestration budget cuts.

Darrell Worm, chairman of the conservancy board, said Glacier has had “flat funding” support from the federal government for about five years, and that is another serious issue the conservancy is interested in alleviating.

Worm said the conservancy’s board members are well aware of a long-standing wish among many Glacier supporters to have a quality visitor center, possibly with museum and exhibit features, on the west side of the park.

“Could that be a signature project? Sure it could,” Preiss said.

Mow pointed out how other National Park Service units have taken on entrepreneurial elements. Public-private partnership efforts have taken on a big role at the Presidio, a former military base in San Francisco that was handed over to the National Park Service in 1996.

Conservancy representatives plan to tour the Presidio along with other parks where innovative partnership efforts are underway.

Another area in which board members expect the conservancy to have an elevated role is political advocacy on behalf of Glacier Park. Mow and other park staffers are prohibited from any kind of lobbying, but the conservancy will be able to approach congressional members as needed.

The main goal, Preiss said, is to provide long-term benefits to the park.

“Are we making a real difference, long term. That’s what this merger was all about — tackling those big things.”

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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