Jonathan Jarvis, the 18th director of the National Park Service whose seven-year stint at the top of the agency witnessed the highs of the National Park Service Centennial and the lows of sordid sexual harassment scandals, on Friday announced that he would retire on January 3, 2017.
In a brief, two-paragraph note sent to the agency's employees, Director Jarvis didn't mention the scandals or ethical lapses committed by himself as well as many below him. Rather, he looked ahead to the agency's second century.
"The National Park Service is not perfect, but it is strong, resilient and beloved by the American people. The NPS fearlessly addresses some of the most complex issues of our society from climate change to civil rights and stands as a beacon to those who work to achieve the highest aspirations of the nation," he wrote. "I could not be more proud of the 22,000 employees who keep that beacon bright everyday in our parks and programs across the country. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose story we interpret in parks Atlanta and in D.C., said that 'the arc of the universe bends toward justice.' The collective weight of the National Park Service pulls that bend closer to environmental and social justice for all those who call this planet home. Keep pulling, be safe and I will see you in the parks."
Director Jarvis spent four decades working for the Park Service, rising from a GS-4 Park Technician on the National Mall in 1976 to superintendent positions at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington before moving to the Pacific Region office and, finally, the directorship in September 2009.
The low points of his directorship had to be both the sexual harassment scandals that arose from Grand Canyon National Park and then Cape Canaveral National Seashore and his upbraiding for ignoring ethics regulations in writing a book about American values and national parks for a cooperating association. Those two incidents combined led to U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia, to call for Director Jarvis's resignation, as well as a petition drive to accomplish the same goal.
The Park Service is continuing to try to right itself after the sexual harassment scandals, as well as charges that Yosemite National Park's superintendent, Don Neubacher, oversaw a hostile, bullying work environment. Those claims led to Mr. Neubacher's decision to retire. A hotline has been set up for Park Service employees to report charges of harassment of any kind, and two "ombuds" have been appointed to meet with employees to discuss problems in the workplace.
On the high side, the National Park Service Centennial brought a record number of visitors to the parks. Though official visitation numbers won't be available before February or March, through November the tally stood at 309,666,793, roughly 2.4 million above the 307,247,252 total for all of 2015.
But even the centennial highlighted negative issues with the parks, as some were overwhelmed by visitors and led to a number of parks seeking to identify a specific carrying capacity of tourists that they could safely manage.
Once Mr. Jarvis retires, his deputy director, Mike Reynolds, will serve as acting director until the incoming Trump administration fills the position.