New Conservancy director looks to double its coffers

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From left, Jeff Mow, superintendent of Glacier National Park, Doug Mitchell, the new executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, and Barbara Pahl, vice president for Western Field Services for the National Trust at National Trust for Historic Preservation share a laugh following their remarks at a media day revealing 13 years of renovations at the Many Glacier Hotel on Tuesday, September 12.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Doug Mitchell didn’t get much time to settle into the job as the executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy. About six weeks in, the Sperry Chalet was gutted by fire and the Park will likely lean heavily on the Conservancy to stabilize, and hopefully rebuild the structure.

Mitchell said the day after the fire, he and board members Mo Stein and John Donovan met with Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow on ways the Conservancy could help.

By the end of the day the Conservancy had sent out the word on its Facebook page and other social media that it was looking for emails of people who were willing to help — no donations yet, but just interest.

The response came quickly. Within a week, more than 500 emails were received.

Mitchell is no stranger to high pressure situations.

He was Montana Sen. Max Baucus’s Montana Chief of Staff for four years; Montana’s Chief Deputy Secretary of State for seven years and was most recently the Deputy Director of the Montana Department of Commerce, for the past four years.

Now he’s really looking forward to helping the Park.

“I truly feel like I won the lottery,” he said in an interview recently.

Mitchell brings some lofty goals to the table. He hopes to double the organization’s fundraising efforts to $10 million annually in the next five years, primarily through philanthropic giving.

That would about double where the organization is right now.

The Conservancy supported about $2.2 million in Park projects in 2016, which was up 83 percent over the previous year, according to the organizations annual report.

In addition to fundraising and memberships, the Conservancy also runs the bookstores in the Park. Last year it sold about 22,000 books and had net merchandise sales of $1.722 million and contributions and other public support of $2.2 million, according to its annual report.

In 2018, will it will look fund 56 park projects at a cost of $2.17 million, ranging from trail rebuilding efforts — a mile of trail maintenance costs about $800 — to monitoring Glacier’s bat population and their roosting sites.

Mitchell notes that some projects aren’t exactly glamorous.

This year, for example, the Conservancy funded a toilet at the backcountry Hole-in-the-Wall campground. The toilet, which is built to the withstand the elements, eventually composts human waste into organic material that can be disposed of on-site. The toilet uses a human-powered elevator of sorts to separate the waste, where it composts over a series of seasons.

The toilets are used successfully in Europe, but it’s the first of its kind in Glacier.

Other projects have a broader appeal. At its backpacker’s ball in August, donors fully funded Glacier’s Dark Sky Initiative. The $150,000 project will eventually make Glacier and it’s neighbor, Waterton, the world’s first international dark sky peace park.

A full 80 percent of the world’s population never sees all of the stars in the sky. Glacier is one of the few places in the Lower 48 that has dark skies.

Mitchell oversees a staff of 14 full-time employees, 11 of which work in its Columbia Falls offices.

The Stanford University graduate and his wife, Julie, who grew up in the Flathead, enjoy hiking in the Park. One of their favorite hikes is the Dawson-Pitamakan Loop. The family “debate” being whether one should start the trip out with a boat ride up Two Medicine Lake or finish with a boat ride.

The ride cuts a couple miles off the 17-plus mile hike.

To love the landscape, one must know the landscape.

Mitchell recalls a line from his old boss, Sen. Baucus.

“Public service is the most noble human endeavor,” he said.

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