NPS' Jon Jarvis: Right Man For The Job

In the face of crushing obstacles, new National Park Service director finds solace in wilderness
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In the face of crushing obstacles, new National Park Service director finds solace in wilderness

Whatever you think about Obama's policies, it's hard to argue with his pick for National Park Service director. The first park biologist to take the lead for our national parks sought out inspiration in two classic places before tackling the park system's mounting woes: John Muir's home and an unassisted hike up Yosemite's Half Dome with his family.

"I stood under the trees Muir planted and hoped some of his wisdom would find me in the shade," Mr. Jarvis says.

The new park service director, his wife, and two adult children made an arduous trek up the back side of Half Dome ridge. No rangers were allowed to accompany their new boss and smooth his way to the top, per edict of daughter Leah. Each one lugged his or her own pack.

The kids wanted some "private 'dad time,' " Jarvis recalls in a phone interview, "and they didn't want me talking shop" with park personnel. The Jarvis family regards camping trips almost as sacred events. "I guess we're really no different from millions of other families."

He'll need all the help he can get: The NPS faces a daunting $8 billion maintenance backlog to fix potholes, improve ranger living quarters, and build more visitor centers and campgrounds. But Jarvis recognizes that climate change could be "the greatest challenge ever to face national parks."

"I like to tell people that back in those days parks were 'bigger' because the landscapes around them were more rural and wild," Jarvis says. "Today, we have development not only encircling our crown-jewel nature preserves, but look at some of the Civil War battlefields that basically are now in the middle of suburbs."

We can all feel a little bit better knowing someone like Jarvis is in charge of some of our favorite wild places—but he's still going to need help, and a lot of luck. Visit nps.gov to find out how you can help volunteer, and look for our upcoming interview with Jarvis in the pages of BACKPACKER.

—Ted Alvarez

Long to-do list for NPS chief (Flathead Beacon)