The last time all of the country's national parks superintendents gathered for a meeting in one place was in 1988 at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park.
When the meetings were over, Joan Anzelmo headed back to her job at Yellowstone National Park and to what would become the historic "year of fire" there. About $120 million was spent on fires fought by 25,000 men and women who battled blazes that charred over one-third of the park's 2.2 million acres.
"Obviously that fire season changed all of our lives," Anzelmo said over the phone.
Now superintendent of the 25,000-acre Colorado National Monument, Anzelmo is organizing a rare summit of superintendents that will take place on Wednesday and Thursday at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort. Those superintendents manage 391 sites in the national park system.
Wildfires, particularly in the arid West, will be one of many topics covered during the two days of meetings, which will also include an appearance by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Anzelmo said a summit committee chose Utah for its central location and Snowbird for its discounted rates.
One goal for the summit will be to discuss how to connect or reconnect Americans with their national parks. Younger generations are increasingly learning about parks they may never visit by logging on to the Internet. So, one emphasis will be to see who is doing what with their Web sites in terms of educating youth and staying "relevant" to that demographic.
Anzelmo said superintendents will talk about how to improve parks and how to develop park leaders for a new century. The year 2016 marks the 100-year anniversary of the national park system.
"The good news is that Congress has been pretty darn generous to national parks," she said.
Anzelmo referred specifically to a matching grant initiative that has brought public and private money together to fund new programs for tourists at her park and, in Utah, at Cedar Breaks National Monument and Zion National Park. Base funding, she added, to hire seasonal employees just to handle maintenance work on trails and facilities has also increased.National Park Service Director Mary Bomar said the summit will focus on increasing capacity at parks by "engaging volunteers and other partners" to supplement a $2.3 billion organization that systemwide, has 275 million annual visitors. Charles Jordan, The Conservation Fund chairman, has been invited to speak on that topic.
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