Director Chuck Sams (left) presents Jillian McKenna (center) with the Wes Henry Award. Photo: NPS

Jillian McKenna, Glacier National Park’s Wilderness Data Steward, was presented the Wes Henry Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Award by NPS Director Chuck Sams in a ceremony this August in Washington DC.

“It was especially meaningful to receive this award from Director Sams,” McKenna shared, “Since he’s the first indigenous person to serve as National Park Service Director.”

For McKenna’s award-winning work, made possible by your generous donations, she created a wilderness character story map for Glacier National Park. The story map, which was made in conjunction with Glacier’s Wilderness Coordinator Brad Blickhan, can be viewed online.

The Wes Henry award is given annually by the director of the NPS to an individual, team, and partner who demonstrate devotion to preservation of wilderness and to public education about the benefits of wilderness. The award was among a handful of top NPS awards to be given out at a ceremony with the director. The recipients of all the awards were invited to a reception following the ceremony.

A woman leans on a railing.

Jillian McKenna looks over the Flathead River. Photo: Andrew Smith/GNPC

“It was so cool to meet the other honorees and learn about their work,” McKenna said of the experience, “It was such an inspiring group of people, and they gave me renewed energy to come back to Glacier and keep up the fight for wilderness!”

McKenna’s story map documents the wilderness character of Glacier’s various regions, and outlines some of the threats wilderness faces here. By establishing a baseline of wilderness character, the project will allow future managers to evaluate how wilderness has degraded and what changes need to be made to preserve it. The story map also provides an introduction to wilderness character, and the qualities it entails, for those new to wilderness stewardship.

So what is next for Jillian after winning this prestigious honor?

She’s already hard at work on her next Conservancy supported project, using technology to help wilderness rangers collect data more easily and with higher quality while on patrol. 15 field tablets were set up with GIS software that allow rangers to quickly and accurately assess wilderness character while performing their duties, and to convey that data to managers back at headquarters efficiently and in a useful format. The project allows managers to very quickly intervene when wilderness is threatened, and to solve problems before they become big and costly.

Screenshots from a wilderness GIS program.

A screenshot of the GIS program for wilderness rangers, and a map of invasive species pulled in the Trout Lake area generated by data from rangers. Image: NPS

In the first summer of the project, wilderness rangers made over 150 reports, which provided invaluable information on things like the spread of invasive species, the condition of backcountry infrastructure, and even the movement of bears and other wildlife.

“I’m so thankful to the Glacier National Park Conservancy and its supporters,” McKenna added, “They’ve given me the chance to have a career doing the thing I love and protecting this important place.”

A ranger enters data onto a tablet.

Wilderness Ranger Lora entering data on her tablet. Photo: NPS

Learning About wilderness in glacier

You can view Jillian’s wilderness character story map here. Check out Jillian’s Glacier Conversations program on our YouTube channel.

Your Support Makes A Difference

This project and many other critical projects would not be possible without your donations to the Glacier Conservancy. Learn more about how your support is making it possible to protect wilderness in Glacier National Park.