North Cascades National Park is getting new leadership in November, with the appointment of Don Striker as the North Cascades National Park Service Complex superintendent.
Striker will come to Washington after nearly three decades working with the National Park Service, most recently serving as superintendent of Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve since 2013.
“By and large, it’s going to be a pretty similar position in the sense that we have big, capital-W designated wilderness,” Striker told The Bellingham Herald. “And a lot of passionate people that really value wilderness.”
The North Cascades National Park Service Complex is 505,000 acres comprised of a northern and southern unit, along with two national recreation areas: Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The park “preserves some of the finest mountain country in North America,” according to the National Park Service website.
The park includes land in Whatcom, Skagit and Chelan counties.
“(Striker) brings extensive skills in managing vast natural areas and an ability to cultivate partnerships, which make him a great fit for this position,” said Cindy Orlando, acting National Park Service regional director, in a statement.
North Cascades National Park is the most dangerous national park in the country, with an average 652.35 deaths per 10 million visitors, according to a study from personal injury law firm Panish Shea & Boyle LLP. But Striker says he feels prepared to manage park safety, especially considering that Denali National Park and Preserve ranked second on that list with 100.50 deaths per 10 million visitors.
Striker is still orienting himself to the values and priorities of stakeholders at North Cascades National Park, including surrounding communities, visitors, tribes and National Park Service staff, he said. He is reaching out to a list of key contacts to better understand issues important to them.
“Managing parks is a delicate business,” Striker said. “We need to focus on whether or not we are relevant; in particular, if we are relevant to the communities surrounding the park. If your neighbors don’t like you, it’s tough.”
Sharing local values
Striker said one of his broader goals is to draw from and recognize the traditional knowledge and sovereignty of the tribes who originally stewarded the land now managed by the National Park Service. Striker also wants to ensure that surrounding communities feel like the park is managed for their benefit, not just the “crush of summer visitors,” he said.
“It means sharing our values in a way people can understand and come to embrace in their own terms,” Striker said. “Not being seen as the federal government whose boundaries you’re crossing into, and now we are in a police state with a bunch of rules we are imposing on you.”
Striker has a good track record in this area, said Dunham Gooding, president of the Bellingham-based American Alpine Institute. The Institute leads climbing expeditions both in Denali National Park and North Cascades National Park, and Gooding said Striker’s management style effectively balances holding companies like his to high standards and knowing when to step back and trust that they know what they are doing.
“His administration (at Denali) was typified by being clear about expectations but at the same time not being a micro-manager,” Gooding said.
Compared to other national parks, North Cascades doesn’t have as many trails and opportunities for members of the general public who don’t have the expertise or fitness to go on long hikes in the backcountry, Gooding said. He sees this as an area for growth under Striker’s administration, and he also hopes Striker continues his collaborative work here in Washington by collaborating with local tribes and educational institutions.
“North Cascades National Park is largely wilderness,” Gooding said. “So it presents a great opportunity for education about ecosystems and climate change.”
Road to Cascades
Striker has previously also served as acting regional director for the National Park Service in Alaska, superintendent at New River Gorge National River and Mount Rushmore and Fort Clatsop national memorials, comptroller at Yellowstone National Park and in several high-level positions representing the National Park Service in the U.S. Department of Interior, according to a National Park Service news release. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
North Cascades National Park was previously led by Karen Taylor-Goodrich, who retired at the end of the summer. Denise Shultz, who is chief of interpretation for the National Park Service and handles the North Cascades National Park public affairs, is the acting superintendent.
Striker doesn’t yet know where he will move to in Washington but is considering homes near Sedro-Woolley, where the North Cascades National Park Service office is. His wife of 34 years, who is a science teacher, will move with him. Striker said he is excited to move to the Pacific Northwest, not only to be closer to his youngest daughter, who lives outside of Seattle, but also because of the culture.
“It really seems like communities in the Pacific Northwest just sort of thrive,” Striker said. “There are lots of passions and differences of opinion, but it seems like there’s more acceptance for working together to find a win-win.”