U.S. parks boss praises Mount Rainier staff

economic engine: Secretary of the Interior says parks are important to recovery effort

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.comAugust 19, 2012 

After meeting with Mount Rainier National Park staffers, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stopped in his tracks as he stepped out the Community Building. “Wow,” he exclaimed as he took in the view of the 14,411-foot mountain.

It’s the reaction that most park visitors have when they see the mountain for the first time.

Salazar was in that role Tuesday as he kept his promise to visit Mount Rainier. After attending the January service for law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson, Salazar told park superintendent Randy King that he wanted to come back to visit the park.

In doing so, Salazar spent time talking to staffers dealing with the deaths of five co-workers this year and talked with community partners about the economic benefit the park provides the region. He also chatted with several members of the media. Here is some of what he had to say.

Q. What are your impressions of Mount Rainier National Park?

A. Spectacular. This is a wonderful place. There are some crown jewels when you consider the icons of the National Park Service. Mount Rainier is certainly one of those icons. This is such a special place.

What did you tell the park employees when you met with them? (Editor’s note: The park staff is coping with the deaths of five co-workers, including Roy Watters. A custodian at park headquarters, he died in June from cancer. He had worked at the park the last 14 years as a seasonal employee.)

Our national park family has had a very tough year. It was important to show our National Park family our support. I feel their pain. It’s hard on them. I appreciate the work they do. I wanted to let them know I care. I can’t give medals or huge bonuses, but I can tell them I care.

How do you think the employees are holding up during these emotional times?

Their chin is up, they are strong. The pain they have been through will even make them stronger. They will be OK. They are committed to the mission of Mount Rainier and committed to the mission of the Park Service.

When I look at the National Park Service employees who work here day in and day out, it’s a reminder of what good people they are.

You mentioned visiting Margaret Anderson’s desk with some employees. What was going through your mind as you did that?

I thought about how many times she was at that desk working for the people of this country as a member of the National Park Service. And how many times she sat at that desk wondering about her family and her kids. She was a wonderful human being. I was thinking about her children, at the ages of 2 and 4. I hope her life and her spirit lives with her children.

How important is the economic role national parks have in local economies?

All of us are part of a conservation engine, but this also is an economic engine. We already create a great number of jobs across America. About nine million jobs a year are created by the outdoor recreation industry. As we bring tourists to the United States and our own people visit the parks, they have to have quality experiences. We want them to come back. That puts heads in beds, people in shops and restaurants.


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