The Road to Reopening

As superintendent of Glacier National Park, Jeff Mow has grappled with wildfires and wayward bears, flash floods and fatal avalanches. He’s tangled with budget deficits and government shutdowns, climate change and record-setting throngs of visitors that stretch the park’s infrastructure to maximum capacity.

He’s modeled scenarios that account for rising temperatures and shrinking glaciers, endangered species and invasive ones, trailheads choked with hikers, the strategic placement of a vault toilet, and the logistics of maintaining a 50-mile expanse of alpine highway that has to accommodate around 3 million people every year.

Until now, however, he’s never had to contend with a pandemic. “This is a first,” Mow said. “But we do have some experience dealing with dynamic circumstances at Glacier National Park.”

Managing a unit of the National Park Service is, after all, a job that demands a high degree of administrative acrobatics, particularly when its accessibility is inextricably linked to the economies of its gateway communities. Each NPS supervisor must deal with their own set of unique requirements when considering future operation.

As it turns out, a public-health crisis of this magnitude dwarfs blazes and bears and budgetary woes — or, rather, it lumps them all into one confusing ball of string. Concerns for health of staff, gateway communities, seasonal workers and visitors are complicating the reopening of national parks shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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