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National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis Puts Priorities on Workforce, Relevancy, Stewardship and Education
Jon Jarvis, having been waiting in the wings for months, not surprisingly comes to the directorship of the National Park Service with a set of priorities that revolves around his employees, relevancy of the national parks, stewardship of their natural, cultural, and historical resources, and public education.
On Friday, less than a day after the U.S. Senate confirmed him as director, Mr. Jarvis sent out a system-wide email to his far-flung staff to outline his priorities. No doubt some of his plans will please the Park Service workforce, while others represent a monumental task in light of the agency's roughly $8.5 billion backlog in maintenance needs. But he comes to Washington as the Park Service and the 391 units of the National Park System are enjoying unprecedented publicity in light of the nearly year-long roll-out of Ken Burns' 12-hour documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea.
Against that backdrop, here's the heart of his email:
One of the things I love about the NPS is that we all have had different careers, and yet we are all part of the same NPS family. When the family comes together at Ranger Rendezvous, George Wright, conferences, or any other meeting, it is always a reunion, with hugs and familiar faces. I am very proud to be part of this family, and I am truly proud that Secretary Salazar has chosen “one of us” to lead the NPS. It says a great deal about the trust and confidence he has in all of us.
So what are my priorities?
I have a long list of things I want to fix, like the endless reporting requirements that do not seem to add value and assignments that come with ridiculously short deadlines. I have a good sense of what needs tuning-up having been in the field for three decades. With your help, we will build a more adaptive and innovative organization that can better respond to the challenges we will face in our second century.
As director, the stewardship and care of our national parks, service to our visitors, and expansion of our community programs are my core responsibilities. I will apply all of my skills and years of experience to carry out these duties.
I have four areas I want to tackle first:
Workforce: I come to Washington, in part, as your representative, your voice, and your advocate. The day-to-day operation of the parks and the work of our community assistance programs is accomplished by the dedicated men and women (including amazing volunteers) of the NPS who empty the trash, enter the payroll, rescue the lost, clear the trails, help communities, sample the air and water, and tell our compelling stories. Your welfare and safety will always be my top priority. To help you succeed, we will provide the funding, training, succession planning, recognition, facilities, and policies you need to get your work done.
Relevancy: I have conducted over 200 interviews with superintendent candidates, and I always ask, “What is the biggest issue facing the NPS into the future?” The majority answer, “relevancy.” There is deep concern out there that national parks will become irrelevant to a society that is disconnected from nature and history. We need to help all Americans – especially young people – discover a personal connection to their national parks. While the places are spectacular, it is our people that make parks come alive. In Ken Burns’s documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea he focuses as much on the people as on the parks: employees, residents of gateway communities, scientists, scholars, politicians, indigenous people, activists, concessioners, volunteers, partners and, of course, visitors. Without them, the National Park System would not exist, many parks would never have been established, and the National Park Service would not have the deep support of the American people that we enjoy. I believe every American will relate to and cherish their national parks if given the chance to connect, by technology or by visiting. Beyond parks, our recreation and historic preservation community assistance programs reach and benefit families near their homes in ways that the parks cannot. I plan to expand these programs.
Stewardship: Stewardship of our natural and cultural resources has always been a core value of mine. Our mission is to manage these treasured landscapes unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. This mission is being challenged, particularly by global warming. But at the same time, these challenges are pushing us to think and act at the ecosystem scale, creating unprecedented partnerships with other land managers. We must apply the very best science and scholarly research. To do so, I will create the position of Science Advisor to the Director. As stewards of our national parks, especially considering the challenges of climate change, we must be visible leaders using the sustainability of our facilities and operations, to demonstrate the best in energy and water conservation.
Education: Education is a primary responsibility of the NPS. Visitors should be able to see predators and prey act on their instincts. American history must be portrayed fully, without bias or embellishment, the good and bad parts of the American experience told with equal intelligence. Service learning opportunities must be enhanced. Parks truly are classrooms that help people understand and appreciate the complexities of the natural world and of the historic events that have shaped it and our lives. There are many partners in the educational community who will welcome us, and I intend to reach out to them. To elevate this function, I will create an Associate Director for Education and Interpretation.
In these four areas – and in every other facet of our work – I need your creativity and your wisdom. We will soon launch a blog on InsideNPS as one way for you to share your thoughts and ideas. And, when I am missing something, to let me know about it.
Starting today, I have a couple of things to ask of you.
Reach out to people in your communities, particularly those who have no park experiences. Invite them to visit these places that they own. Help them find themselves among the natural wonders and amazing stories. Think about and call out the stories we are not yet telling that may resonate with new audiences. The National Park Service will reap the benefits for generations to come.
Think about, then act on how your park or program can become a leader in sustainability. There is plenty of information out there, and I know many of you are already doing great things. Share your ideas and best practices.
Honor the people who have made our parks the envy of the world. Honor your fellow employees by watching out for their safety. Honor our volunteers by recognizing their contributions. And honor our visitors by welcoming them to their parks like long lost friends.
As I stated in my remarks before Congress: never in its history has this nation needed the National Park System more. It stands as the collective memory of where we have been, the sacrifices we have made to get here, and who we mean to be as a people. By investing in the preservation, interpretation, and restoration of these symbolic places, we offer hope and optimism to each generation of Americans.
My friends, I am truly honored to have been chosen as your director. You have my commitment that I will do my very best, alongside each of you, to uphold this organization, its extraordinary employees, and our noble mission.
Thank you, now let’s get out there and make America’s best idea even better!