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Parks director pays visit to Crater Lake

Submitted photo National Park Service Director Chuck Sams, left, visited with Bill Thorndike from the Crater Lake Trust during a visit to Crater Lake National Park Wednesday.

National Park Service Director Charles ”Chuck” Sams III visited Crater Lake National Park this past week.

Sams, the Park Service’s first Native American director, met Wednesday with park staff and members of the Crater Lake Trust and Crater Lake Natural History Association, along with Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes.

Others included Frank Lands, the Department of Interior’s director for regions 8, 9, 10 and 12, and Craig Ackerman, who has been serving as the acting deputy regional director, but will return next week as Crater Lake superintendent, along with park staff.

“I thought he was a very good listener,” said Kevin Talbert, who represented the Natural History Association. “He was there to learn about the park, the research that’s going on.”

Talbert said Sams discussed the benefits and needs of developing and expanding relationships with groups that assist parks. Along with the Natural History Association and Crater Lake Trust, the Friends of Crater Lake have for years been instrumental in providing volunteers for park programs.

According to Talbert, Gentry discussed the possibility of creating a Crater Lake blessing by the Klamath Tribes in cooperation with other tribes that have historical connections with Crater Lake.

Park officials noted the tribes’ connection to the land and agreed to collaborate on a statement acknowledging that relationship.

Bill Thorndike, who represented the Crater Lake Trust, expressed admiration and appreciation for Sams, noting, “You can really sense that quality of leadership. He hears and understands what you’re trying to do.”

Like Talbert, Thorndike noted Sams emphasized his belief that parks, including Crater Lake, “need to work more closely with their communities and community partners.”

Thorndike also said Sams was obviously interested in the park’s ongoing aquatic projects, such as concerns about invasive crawfish, recent increases in the lake’s water temperature, and “the fact that we have to adjust to climate change.”

He and others were pleased that Sams, who has previously visited Crater Lake, was able to enjoy a sunny day with exceptional lake views.

“You couldn’t have picked a better day,” Thorndike said.

Sams, an Oregonian who has held many positions with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, was named NPS director last December. He is the first tribal citizen to lead the agency. Among his tasks is helping to implement the Great American Outdoors Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

In addition to providing funding for climate resiliency initiatives and legacy pollution clean-up, the infrastructure law provides for a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Lands Transportation Program aimed at repairing and upgrading NPS roads, bridges, trails and transit systems. Nationally, the law also invests in projects that will help fund bridge replacements and resiliency, repair ferry boats and terminal facilities, and maintain wildlife crossings that keep people and surrounding wildlife safe.

Sams has worked in state and tribal governments and the nonprofit natural resource and conservation management fields for more than 25 years. He most recently served as a council member to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

He has served in a variety of roles with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, including executive director. He has also had roles as the president/chief executive officer of the Indian Country Conservancy, executive director for the Umatilla Tribal Community Foundation, national director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program for the Trust for Public Land, executive director for the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, executive director for the Community Energy Project, and president/CEO for the Earth Conservation Corps.

Sams has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Concordia University-Portland and a Master of Legal Studies in Indigenous peoples law from the University of Oklahoma. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. 

He is an enrolled member, Cayuse and Walla Walla, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, where he lives with his wife and their four children.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.