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Dave Uberuaga leaving Mount Rainier to be superintendent at Grand Canyon

Post by Jeff Mayor / The News Tribune on May 31, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
May 31, 2011 4:30 pm
Dave Uberuaga (Drew Perine/The News Tribune file)

UPDATED AT 4:27 P.M.

 

Here is the story about today’s announcement I filed for Wednesday’s paper.

After a career at Mount Rainier National Park that will span 27 years, Dave Uberuaga is leaving to become superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park.
Uberuaga learned early Tuesday that he had been tabbed to take over the second most visited park in the nation. He expects to begin his new job in mid July.

While the official announcement could come as early as today, there has been no word on who will serve as acting superintendent at Mount Rainier. Deputy superintendent Randy King filled that role in 2009 while Uberuaga worked at Yosemite National Park.

He will take over a park that is five times the size of Mount Rainier, has more than twice the staff and is the center of issues that spread throughout the Southwest.

The Grand Canyon also is one of eight parks that call for a senior level manager to be superintendent. Because he was not at that level, Uberuaga went through additional review before being hired.

“It’s a special opportunity to do something like this,” Uberuaga said.

The 13-month stint as acting superintendent at Yosemite led Uberuaga to consider leaving the only national park where he had worked. He sought but did not get the Yosemite job.

Among the parks he considered were Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. He applied for the position in February. Earlier this spring he flew down on his own to get a sense of the park.

It was not an easy decision, Uberuaga said. He started at Mount Rainier in July 1984 and has served as superintendent since November 2002.

“Being associated with the mountain and with the people who love the place, and there’s a lot of them, to be the steward of all that has been great,” he said.

He will take over for Steve Martin, who ended his 35-year Park Service career when he retired Jan. 1.

Among the issues Uberuaga will face at Grand Canyon are regionwide demands on the Colorado River, requests for uranium mine permits on sites just outside the park, developing an air tour plan to manage as many as 93,000 flights a year and dealing with the impact of 4.5 million visitors each year.

“I realized it would be a change and a challenge,” Uberuaga said of the opportunity. “Barbara (his wife) and I were talking this morning, and I said, ‘It’s official. Here we go.’ ”

Reaction among those connected to Mount Rainier was universal in praise for Uberuaga.

“What Dave brought to his job was his patience, his desire to work with people, that just left an indelible mark of quality,” said Jay Satz, Northwest executive for the Student Conservation Association. The group was one of several that joined with the park in reconstruction efforts following the November 2006 flood that closed the park for six months.

The National Park Conservation Association also was a part of that coalition. Sean Smith, the group’s Northwest policy director, credited Uberuaga for his accessibility and willingness to connect with gateway communities.

“Dave has created an incredible foundation that the next superintendent can build an incredible structure upon,” Smith said.

The coalition and the volunteer effort it sparked are among his biggest accomplishments, Uberuaga said.

“He’s been a passionate advocate for the park and a visionary leader through some very challenging times,” said Kevin Bacher, who heads the park’s volunteer program.

“Among many other things, he has supported wholeheartedly a transformation of the volunteer program at Mount Rainier, making it a key partner of the park’s mission and integrated into every part of park operations. That will be one of his lasting legacies.”

As co-owner of Jasmer’s at Mount Rainier in Ashford, Tanna Osterhaus knew Uberuaga as a one-time neighbor as well as the park superintendent. Uberuaga and his family lived in Ashford before moving to Eatonville.

“He’s he kind of guy who when he walks in the room, he sees the people he doesn’t know and goes up and introduces himself,” Tanna Osterhaus said of Uberuaga.

Osterhaus’ husband, Luke, worked 30 years at the park.

“There seems to be a push within the Park Service that limits visitor access to the parks. Dave was visitor friendly, but he was always fighting against the wave,” he said.

Chip Jenkins, superintendent of the North Cascades National Park Complex has known Uberuaga for eight years beginning while Jenkins was superintendent at Fort Clatsop, now part of Lewis & Clark National Historical Park.

“When Fort Clatsop burned down, Dave was terrific in providing a crew of people from throughout (Mount Rainier) that came down and actually led the effort in rebuilding, with volunteers, Fort Clatsop.

“It’s bittersweet. I really, really enjoy working with Dave here. But it’s really, really good for the National Park Service and for Grand Canyon. He’s an exceptional leader, and he’s passionate about the mission of the National Park Service,” Jenkins said.

Satz echoed that sentiment. “He is the epitome of what is right about the Park Service.”

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