A onetime Grand Teton National Park superintendent who rose to the top of the National Park Service has died after contracting COVID-19.
Gary Everhardt, 86, led Teton Park from 1972 to 1975, departing to become the ninth director of the National Park Service under presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Both Gary and his wife, Nancy, succumbed to complications from the novel coronavirus during the past week in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, according to longtime friend and fellow Park Service retiree Phil Francis.
“They both had COVID, and it was contracted through an assisted care facility,” Francis told the Jackson Hole Daily on Monday. “She died Wednesday night, and Gary died last night.”
Francis and Everhardt both had stints presiding over the Park Service’s Blue Ridge Parkway, the last stop for each before retirement. They came to be close and were exercise buddies.
“Gary was a good friend,” Francis said. “And he was a good friend of the Blue Ridge Parkway and great friend and lover of the National Park Service.”
Everhardt’s time atop the Park Service was probably most marked by his role leading the agency through the United States’ bicentennial celebration.
“He wasn’t director for a long time,” Francis said, “but I think that was his great contribution.”
When Everhardt was tapped to lead the federal agency, he was 40 years old and had just spent a decent chunk of his career in Northwest Wyoming. Prior to the Teton Park superintendency, he spent two years as the assistant superintendent at Yellowstone.
“This is a very special place in America,” Everhardt told the Jackson Hole News in January 1975. “There is a certain amount of excitement and anticipation of new challenges in this very important post. But these are mixed feelings intermingled with our sadness at leaving many close friends and associates.”
At the Park Service’s Washington, D.C., office, Everhardt assumed the directorship following Ron Walker, now a seasonal Jackson Hole resident. Walker recommended Teton Park’s then-superintendent as his successor, an endorsement that worked, and they went on to become friends.
Walker looked back on his pal as a “terrific guy” who had the “Park Service in his veins.”
“Gary was low key, very devoted to the parks, worked really hard and [was] a good leader,” he said. “He was just a really special person, and I’m glad he was my friend.”
Everhardt was a recipient of the Pugsley Medal, which recognized his role promoting and developing parks and conservation and put him in the company of the likes of Stephen Mather, the Park Service’s first director.
In his time in Jackson Hole, Everhardt picked up some less-remembered accolades, too.
Along with the late Clay James, in 1973 he was bestowed a “Most Improved Golfer of the Year” award by the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club. Grand Teton’s superintendent “greatly boosted” his play and also was “among the game’s most enthusiastic supporters,” the Jackson Hole Guide reported at the time.
Eds. note — This story has been amended to correct the U.S. presidents that Gary Everhardt led the National Park Service under.