By Robert Lucke
Steve Frye, Glacier National Park's chief ranger, might have been born in Minnesota, but he considers himself Montana through and through. After all, when his mother and father met, they were working at the Lake McDonald Hotel and the family spent whole summers in Glacier since Frye was five years old.
Frye started his own career in Glacier.
"I started in 1970 working for the National Park Service as a seasonal ranger at Swift Current Lookout," said Frye. "And after that I had a variety of seasonal jobs in the park."
In 1978 Frye received a permanent appointment with the park service which led through a variety of jobs to Glacier's chief ranger.
"The way you get to be a chief ranger is to work your way up the right way," said Frye, smiling. "You start in the dirt and have an adequate amount of dirt time before you move up."
From 1978 to 1983 Frye worked in Glacier, then moved to North Cascades Park in Washington state. In 1985 he was transferred to Yellowstone, where among other things, he worked as the district ranger at Old Faithful. In 1992 he was made chief ranger at Glacier.
Frye described the differences between working at Glacier and Yellowstone.
"The big difference is pace," Frye continued. "The level of activity. Yellowstone has no downtime. There is 365 days of activity. In Glacier the pace slackens. For me it doesn't slow down. It changes. It moves from day to day activity here to planning. You don't have any time when the season hits. But after the season, you have time to see what worked and what didn't work."
Even in Glacier things are changing.
"Our season is expanding on each end," Frye said. "Every year we start earlier and end later. We get busy earlier and stay busier later."
Still, Frye doesn't see year round accommodations for Glacier for some time.
"It could happen, but it is a ways off. Glacier Park Inc. and the Lundgren's (major owners of West Glacier businesses) have looked at the possibility from a financial perspective and the demand just does not exist," Frye explained.
Frye thinks that West Glacier will never see the level of activity of West Yellowstone.
"West Glacier is going to stay about the way it is now. That has to do with the fact that the town is owned by one family. They control all the developed land and have a strong commitment to the park and not becoming a West Yellowstone," said Frye. "I've got to be careful of how I say that. West Yellowstone is a nice place, but it has a whole suite of recreational opportunities outside of the park as well as in the park. That provides diversity."
Frye's duties in Glacier are many and varied.
"Glacier has exclusive jurisdiction. The only thing Montana reserved when Glacier was created was the right to tax and to serve process," Frye continued. "What that means is that I am responsible for law enforcement, every day matters, all collections, search and rescue, structural repairs, wildlife management, and resource management. It is a big responsibility and I take pride in that I am a key staff member to the Glacier superintendent."
"I wear lots of hats and there is never a dull day. That is why I like the job," added Frye. "I don't know of any organization that has more dedicated employees than the National Park Service. You don't work for the National Park Service for the money. And you know I love my job. I think it is the best job anywhere!"
Frye is the man responsible for hiring seasonal employees.
"We get lots of applications. Applications exceed the jobs by many thousands. We used to get 4,000 applications for 20 to 30 jobs. I don't know how many we get now," said Frye, with a laugh.
There is a downside to the chief ranger's job.
"With the responsibility to protect the resource forever while providing opportunities to visit this resource, you are constantly making decisions that upset someone's opportunity. They are tough decisions. So many times you are not able to please someone all the time and yet do what the public wants you to do to protect these resources. And you know once they are gone, they are gone," related Frye.
So in the future, will it be Superintendent Frye?
"I would love to be a superintendent, but I have come to realize the toll it takes and it moves them further from the field. This is a decision I am grappling with now. Being superintendent of Glacier is slim. The park system usually doesn't move you up in the park you are in now. And being a chief ranger is a career goal of mine," said Frye.
Besides, Frye has Glacier and Montana on his mind.
"You can't get beyond the quality of people in the park and in the state," Frye said. "I wish we could do a better job in recognizing the strength of the people in this state."
Frye and Glacier. Seems like a great partnership for all Montanans who love Glacier National Park.