Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Rainier boss to return after Yosemite stint

February 3, 2010, 11:49 am

After 13 months as interim superintendent at Yosemite National Park, Dave Uberuaga will return to run Mount Rainier National Park.

Uberuaga learned Tuesday he will not be superintendent at Yosemite. Chosen instead was Don Neubacher, superintendent at Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco, for the past 15 years.

Uberuaga has been running Yosemite since Jan. 4, 2009, taking over after the retirement of Mike Tollefson. The post was expected to last only a few months, but a change in administration in Washington, D.C., led to the 13-month stint.

“It’s good to have a decision, I’m glad for that,” Uberuaga said from the park. “It has been a great opportunity down here. I admit I felt some general disappointment. But going forward, I will be a better manager. I have a new perspective on things.”

It could take six weeks for the transition, Uberuaga said. He also plans to take some time off before he goes back to his office outside Ashford.

Uberuaga spent the first 24 years of his National Park Service career at Mount Rainier before his temporary move to Yosemite. He had been superintendent since 2003.

His return allows several other employees to return to their normal duties. Most notably, Randy King has been the acting superintendent, while Roger Andrascik has been in King’s position as deputy superintendent.

“Things will transition back to normal, but it will be different,” said Donna Rahier, who has been working with the park’s superintendents since 1978. “Dave will come back with new experience and new perspectives. He will have a new way of looking at things.”

“It’s great news for Mount Rainier,” said Sean Smith, policy director for the National Parks Conservation Association’s Northwest office. “Dave is a proven, outstanding leader. We’re happy to have his vision and his presence back at Mount Rainier.”

Uberuaga said he knows he faces new challenges at Mount Rainier.

The park’s staff is close to releasing an environmental assessment for the Carbon River corridor. The road was extensively damaged in the historic flood of November 2006. The assessment will list several alternatives, but park officials have said the road will not be rebuilt.

The park also is looking for an estimated $5 million to do a seismic retrofit of the Paradise Inn Annex, where the park has most of the guest rooms. The inn was closed for the 2006 and 2007 seasons while the same work was done on the main building.

Park staff members also have begun developing an environmental assessment to gauge the effect of work to be done on the 17.6-mile road from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise. Cost estimate for the work is about $32.7 million. The work is not expected to begin until 2012.

That assessment is expected to be released for public comment in May.

Then there are issues related to climate change, and this week’s announcement that budgets are going to be frozen for the Park Service.

“The challenges are endless,” Uberuaga said. “It’s a very demanding place.”

So was Yosemite, he said.

The past year at the California park was filled with challenges. It just announced a plan to require permits to hike up Half Dome. In September, the park settled a decade of litigation over a plan to control development along the Merced River.

“Dave stepped into one of most complex assignments in the National Park System and never missed a beat,” said Jon Jarvis, National Park Service director.

“He got up to speed quickly, moved negotiations along on the largest concession contract in the system, and provided the day-to-day leadership that our partners and employees need to care for Yosemite.”

Uberuaga said he will return to Rainier after his time at Yosemite with a greater appreciation for the park staff.

“I always have been a people person, focusing on the staff,” he said. “But it was reinforced here. You really have to take care of the people who work there.”

He also learned park managers cannot spend too much time making decisions.

“You really don’t get to dwell on things very long because they keep piling up,” he said. “You gather the information you can, make a decision and look for the public response.

“You’re managing it for your constituents. You have to be out front with them, listen and take to heart what they say and do something about it to the extent that you can.”

Uberuaga said he will be sad to leave the Yosemite Valley. But he also knows it means the end to the daily phone calls home to his wife and the occasional trips home to Eatonville.

“There is some comfort knowing I have my Mount Rainier family and friends,” he said. “I feel bad there is an opportunity lost, but I get to go back to a place I dearly love.”