MISSOULA – Glacier National Park is known as the Crown of the Continent, and standing along the shoreline of Lake McDonald on a warm July afternoon, it’s easy to see why. Everything from the crystal-clear water to the still snow-capped rocky peaks glistens under the sun. Trees and vegetation are still a verdant jewel tone, due in part to the late rain and snow that has kept Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road shut to traffic well into the peak tourism season. It’s one million acres of some of the best views and wildlife spotting Montana has to offer.
UM alumnus and new park Superintendent Dave Roemer can’t wait to explore it. He’s been to the park before, in 2003 as part of a team mapping out wildfire recovery, but he didn’t cover many miles.
“Modern firefighting – you’re down in a basement at a computer the whole time,” he said with a smile. “I’m hoping I’ll get out of the basement now and see some things.”
After growing up on Long Island, New York, and then spending his undergraduate years at Antioch College in Ohio, Roemer was ready to head west.
He took a Greyhound bus across the country to work a summer position with the National Park Service in New Mexico. The enjoyment he got from working outdoors was something he wanted to make into a career, so he began searching for a graduate degree to make it possible. He settled on Montana and earned a master’s in environmental studies at UM.
“Apart from loving Missoula and loving the campus, the coursework I was taking, the teachers and classmates that I was going to school with were a big part of the experience that I treasure,” he said.
One class in environmental law gave Roemer a look at the real-world impacts of his studies. His mock legislation on cave conservation sparked the interest of a state lawmaker. The two met over coffee at Butterfly Herbs in Missoula to discuss making the legislation real. Roemer then went to Helena to testify, and the Cave Conservation Act of 1993 was signed into law.
Surprisingly, the closest Roemer got to Glacier as a student was picking up a new student at the train station in Whitefish. He was too busy further west, working in the Kootenai National Forest and Idaho panhandle surveying bat and harlequin duck populations.
After graduating, Roemer began a career with the National Parks Service, starting at Carlsbad Caverns and then moving to Bryce Canyon and Big Thicket. Most recently, he served as the deputy superintendent at Redwood National Park.
Roemer said his time at Redwood highlighted the importance of incorporating tribal perspectives. This year, the park worked in partnership with the Yurok Tribe to restore California condors to their historic range along the northern California coast. He hopes to bring an emphasis on tribal partners to his time at Glacier, where the land is essential to the cultures of the Blackfeet, Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes.
“Telling park stories is incomplete without those stories being told by the people who were the first stewards and caretakers of these lands,” Roemer said.
Meeting with him on day two of his tenure, Roemer is aware of the opportunity for adventure and discovery at Glacier. He’s also aware of the challenges that lay ahead.
With a pandemic-fueled boom in outdoor recreation, the park saw its second-highest visitation ever in 2021. Roemer is enthusiastic about people rediscovering what national parks have to offer but acknowledges it might require some adjustments to how we approach recreation and conservation.
“The lens that I always view park challenges through is how can we apply the best available science, how can we faithfully follow law and policy and how can we make the best decisions for future generations in the park,” Roemer explains. “Sometimes that involves not doing something that might be easy and expedient in the moment, but trying to think it through and think about how your decision affects situations in the long term.”
Roemer’s wife and two kids will soon join him in Montana. He’s looking forward to taking them on backpacking trips and a tour of Missoula, where they may even catch a Griz game on campus.