Tollefson Moving On

In News

Here’s a great article that ran this morning in the Modesto Bee on Mike Tollefson, the current Superintendent of Yosemite who will be leaving for his new job as head of the Yosemite Fund in January. I really liked this article because I thought it did well to bring out and show who Tollefson is. I personally admire him very much and think he’s done an awesome job although some people might not feel the same. It’s great that, even though he won’t have to get up every morning and put on his uniform and hat before heading to work, he’ll still be connected to the park and able to help and protect it.

The Modesto Bee: “Unpacking his car after a trip last month, Yosemite National Park boss Mike Tollefson chatted with an intimidating visitor lying next to his sidewalk — a deer with a large rack of antlers.

‘I was trying to have this conversation with him, mostly so he wouldn’t be startled,’ he said. ‘I wanted to be really careful.’

Whether he’s speaking to a buck mule deer in the front yard or an environmental pit bull in the courtroom, careful conversations have defined Tollefson’s life for six years in the park. All that will end in January.

Tollefson, 61, the longest-serving Yosemite superintendent in four decades, will retire. He plans to live in San Francisco to become president of The Yosemite Fund, a nonprofit fund-raising organization that underwrites many park projects.

He leaves a legacy as an approachable leader who finished millions of dollars worth of renovations for buildings, roads, utilities and trails. He completed many long-debated fixes in a park that ranks alongside Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon as crown jewels of the National Park Service.

He also will be remembered for leading the park’s defense against an activist lawsuit that revealed flaws in park planning and stopped the $35 million reconstruction of Yosemite Lodge. The lawsuit will continue well beyond his tenure.

Supporters say he was at ease in a Yosemite wilderness with tourists or a formal gathering with dignitaries in Washington, D.C.
He had a habit of getting coffee in the mornings at Yosemite Valley restaurants just to hear the talk and sometimes join in. He met regularly with business people and residents in the surrounding communities.

‘Mike’s a great leader,’ said park service director Mary Bomar in Washington, D.C. ‘He has been one of those people who can stand up to very tough issues with his personal skills. I give him top marks.’
Added Nanci Sikes, executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau: ‘He is a delight to work with. I’ve worked with many superintendents, but he’s the one with the greatest ability to reach out to the community. We feel attached to Yosemite.’

Not everyone is a fan, though. George Whitmore of the Sierra Club said Tollefson had difficulty handling widely different views of how Yosemite should be managed.

‘Had he been better skilled in handling a diversity of opinion, a lot of the litigation probably could have been avoided,’ he said.
For Tollefson, Yosemite was the final stop in a 36-year career that included high-profile posts running Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Like many career park service employees, his résumé is filled with jobs in places such as Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, where he was superintendent in the 1980s.

He quickly attracted a spotlight in the 1990s when he arrived at Sequoia-Kings Canyon. He supervised the shutdown of motel rooms, residential cabins and an old sewage plant at Giant Forest, where 2,000-year-old sequoias stand.”

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