Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks named Beth R. Shumate the new state parks administrator Monday following a nearly year-long vacancy at the post.
Shumate has served as manager of Hell Creek State Park and most recently as FWP’s state trails program manager. She lives near Clancy.
FWP director Martha Williams said the agency saw strong interest in the position and looked seriously at 13 applicants before selecting Shumate.
“She’ll be working on pulling together the division and pulling together everyone interested in State Parks, and I have every confidence she can do it,” Williams said.
Shumate will take over for Chas Van Genderen, who was unexpectedly dismissed last December by then-FWP director Jeff Hagener. Van Genderen held the position for eight years. The terms of the dismissal have remained undisclosed.
State Parks continued to come under scrutiny from the Legislature and the media earlier this year due to millions of dollars that inexplicably went unspent despite a backlog of maintenance needs. While lawmakers did approve several major projects, they also diverted about $4 million outside the agency.
Gov. Steve Bullock also vetoed a bill that would have given State Parks more autonomy from FWP by putting the hiring and firing of the administrator with the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board. The administrator currently works under the authority of the FWP director.
Then in August, Bullock asked for and accepted the resignation from one board member and dismissed chairman Tom Towe, who contentiously questioned the governor's authority to remove him.
So Shumate steps into a leadership role at a division that has weathered some recent storms and has often been suggested should be separated from FWP to pursue its own goals.
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Shumate will begin work on Dec. 4.
Shumate grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota. She has a bachelor’s degree in health management from Luther College in Iowa and a master’s degree in recreation management from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. She first fell in love with the West as a wildland firefighter. She’s lived in Montana for 15 years.
“I’ve been interested in trying to promote people connecting with nature and parks and trail systems my entire life,” she said. “It’s really important that we’re able to connect people with the outdoors and provide for healthier communities.”
The hiring of an administrator for the FWP’s parks division is important as the state looks toward the future of the parks and recreation program.
One major focus for Shumate will be budget issues, Williams believes, along with working with the board and the roll-out of Bullock’s “Parks in Focus Initiative,” aimed at bolstering support and potential funding for the parks system.
“This is obviously a key leadership role for state parks and recreation," said Angie Grove, the new chair of the park’s board, in a statement. "The administrator position is critical for moving forward with the governor's Parks In Focus Initiative and implementing our strategic plan. We look forward to the energy Beth will bring in addressing those critical areas, as well as managing overall operations. The board is looking forward to working with Beth on those two key pieces of direction for the state.”
Montana has 55 state parks and five outdoor recreation programs. Shumate sees connecting Montana residents and visitors with experiences outdoors as a vital role for the division to play. How to fund those parks and programs continues to be a problem for the state. Attempts to reduce the number of parks have been fought by locals.
Shumate knows that finding additional sustainable funding is an initial challenge and area of emphasis when she takes the helm next month. She would also like to focus on some of Montana’s more remote parks and developing additional trail systems in state parks.
“We have a mountain of work ahead of us but we have an amazing team of experts that are truly knowledgeable in the parks and recreation fields,” Shumate said.