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Southern Utah News Front Page: May 26, 2016
Superintendent David Uberuaga - Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga addressing a crowd at the rim of the canyon.
Editor’s note – In celebration of this, the Centennial of the National Park Service, the Southern Utah News will feature a three part series on profiles of the superintendents of the three national parks that so directly impact life here – Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.
By Dixie Brunner
To say Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga has some experience in national park management would be an understatement! He has 37 years of federal service under his belt, as well as working for the National Park Service since 1984. Among other jobs, he was Superintendent of Mt. Rainier for nine years in Washington state. During that time, he served for more than a year as Acting Superintendent of Yosemite National Park.
As for education, the Boise, Idaho native has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology, as well as a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Idaho. He and wife Barbara have three grown children.
And Uberuaga doesn’t just consider his job just a walk in the park! His hard work and pride in the National Parks in which he’s worked has earned him some impressive honors. Among others, he was named the 2008 Federal Land Manager by the Department of Interior; recipient of the DOI’s Cooperative Conservation Award and Superior Service Award; and was named the National Park Conservation Association’s Stephen Tyng Mather Award for promoting environmental preservation in the parks.
In 2015, Grand Canyon National Park had about 5.5 million visitors, and are on track for being much higher this year due to the Centennial celebration.
Uberuaga was named Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent in 2011, and his pride in the Grand Canyon is obvious. “For me, the Grand Canyon experience hits you as you’re approaching the rim – it’s that reaction that is so special when you see a thing of such grandeur and beauty! It’s the ultimate. That is a part of it for me. I walk the rim and often experience many different emotions.”
Bringing that life-changing experience to all visitors is a part of the Grand Canyon staff’s goal. “Our goal is to provide a world class experience every day,” said Uberuaga. “How do we help to provide that? We have mission driven employees and volunteers who love the Grand Canyon and take much pride in their work. I encourage NPS employees to take a walk and sit by themselves – let them take in the spirit of the canyon. No one should ever take this wonderful place for granted.”
Uberuaga said a big challenge (besides funding), is to reach out to new audiences – engage them – and encouraging precious experiences. “Grand Canyon provides respites of solitude. We hope when people come, it’s an incredible visit,” he added.
The shorter park season of the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park concerns people who live near there. The shorter season definitely impacts local economics, which rely largely on the tourism industry. The Grand Canyon National Park has a $640,000,000 direct impact on the national economy, and it has experienced a 40 percent foreign visitor increase!
“I’ve met with the Kanab Chamber, and many other interested parties for the past few years trying to solve that frustration,” explained Uberuaga. He said there is far more snow on the North Rim due to higher elevation, and plowing and road-clearing would be often needed. There would be significant staff and building renovation that would be needed as well.
But the most daunting challenge is the lack of money to replace water and sewer lines! “My estimated cost of replacement is around $47 million in capital to bring it all up to snuff. With the current financial environment with the federal government (not wanting to or having the money to properly fund national parks), it’s just not likely to happen for awhile.”
Uberuaga said they have expanded the park’s season in the last few years, and are trying to keep the gates open longer in benefit of local communities.
When asked whether growing up in Idaho gives him any different perspective on public land management, he responded that the National Park Service philosophy is founded on preservation. “The Grand Canyon is one of the most protected parks, and we are to make sure it’s not degraded in any way!”
When looking to the Grand Canyon’s future, Oberuaga encourages people to plan a trip to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. “The Grand Canyon will be here in all its glory for generations to come.”