Heidi Zemach for SCN –
Rebecca (Bekki) Lasell, the new Kenai Fjords National Park Superintendent and some of her staff members met with the Seward public Tuesday evening at the Seward Community Museum Library. It was a friendly, catered affair, and the many who showed up also took the opportunity to chat with Kenai Fjords National Park staff such as Chief of Interpretation Kristy Sholly, Education Specialist C.J. Rae, and Chief Ranger Mark Thompson.
Griffin Plush, a Seward High School student who has worked with the Youth Conservation Student summer program and his friend Gabby Kasma introduced themselves to Lasell. Major Marine Tours Director Tom Tougas, and his wife Mary also were there to meet the new superintendent. The company’s marine wildlife cruises, and Kenai Fjords Tour boats ply the waters of Kenai Fjords National Park during the busy five-month tourist season. Robert Stovall, the Chugach National Forest deputy district ranger introduced himself, and Lasell hopes to meet soon with the rest of the forest leadership, as both agencies own portions of the Herman Leirer Road, and share common goals such as invasive weed species management.
The national park enjoys many partnerships within the community and with various agencies Outside, and like her predecessor, Jeff Mow, who ran the park for the past decade, Lasell believes they’re an important part of the park’s mission.
Other visitors she met came from the Alaska Sealife Center, Alaska Geographic, Kenai Mountains Turnagain Arm Natural Heritage Area, Resurrection Bay Historical Society, Seward Arts Council, Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Friends of Jessie Lee Home, and businesses including Adventure 60 North, Urbachs, Grazing Moose, and more.
Lasell will oversee a permanent staff of about 19 employees, growing to a summertime staff of 86-96 workers. She will manage the 670,000-acre old national park. The majority of park is still rugged wilderness, with the exception of the visitor center at Exit Glacier. The park has 38 glaciers, including the 13-mile long Bear Glacier. It has coastal fjords where tide-water glaciers calve into the sea, and of course the vast Harding Icefield, the largest ice field contained entirely within U.S. borders. It has 191 bird species, 40 mammal species, and 40 species of fish, 12 of which are Threatened or Endangered, and a newly-emerging rainforest.
Some of the challenges for the park superintendent includes federal budget limitations, although the NPS is expecting a better outlook for opportunities this year than last. Others include preserving the Herman Leirer Road to Exit Glacier and creating a multi-agency trail alongside of it; handling and tracking the effects of the receding glaciers, bear and moose management in the visitor area, which are subject to human interactions, coastal management of marine debris, monitoring and removal, protecting Black Oystercatchers; and sensitive coastal archeological site assessments.
Lasell applied for the position in Seward largely for its small-town atmosphere, abundance of available of natural resources, and also for its history as one of the older cities in Alaska. She enjoys sailing, kayaking, hiking and wildlife photography, and is looking forward to trying her hand at fishing.
Lasell has 18 years of land-management experience in California, Nevada, and Washington D.C. She spent the last three years working with renewable energy, and off-road recreationalists in the Greater Los Angeles, California Desert District for the Bureau of Land Management. Prior to that she spent seven years in Washington D.C, working for the Bureau of Land Management.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Cal State in Sacramento, she traveled throughout that state working for an environmental contracting firm. Lasell then returned to school and began a master’s program in Historic Archaeology at the University of Nevada, Reno, with an emphasis in mining. Lasell performed surveying and mining-related archaeology jobs throughout Nevada under one contract, and then held another archaeology job in Carson City.