Editor's note: This updates with comments Ms. Lehnertz made to her staff at Golden Gate NRA regarding her move to Grand Canyon.
Christine Lehnertz, a long-time federal employee who currently is superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, has been chosen to take the helm at Grand Canyon National Park and work to help the park overcome a long-running episode of sexual harassment.
The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, who noted that Ms. Lehnertz brings "an outsider's perspective to the National Park Service."
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was instrumental in her selection.
"Like all organizations, the NPS has its ups and downs. In the midst of a very bright up, the Centennial year, we have learned of some very dark downs - sexual harassment in at least two national park units. The sexual harassment at Grand Canyon National Park and Cape Canaveral National Seashore means that some of our NPS colleagues have suffered immeasurable harm, and the outrageous misconduct of a few park employees has driven dedicated professionals away from federal service," Ms. Lehnertz said in an email announcing her departure to her staff at Golden Gate. "We can't wait another moment for this to change dramatically, or for the NPS to honestly, directly, and completely address these issues. As part of that change, Secretary Jewell and Director Jarvis have asked me to report to the Grand Canyon as the park's new superintendent. This is scheduled to take place in August."
Educated as an environmental biologist, Ms. Lehnertz worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before a 16-year stint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She joined the National Park Service in 2007 as deputy superintendent at Yellowstone National Park.
After a stint as the Park Service's Pacific West Region director from 2010-2015, she took over at Golden Gate in May 2015. At Grand Canyon she will be challenged with overcoming a 15-year-period of sexual harassment within the park's River District. That sordid chapter led to the retirement of Dave Uberuaga on June 1. Since then, two deputy superintendents have been overseeing the day-to-day operations of the park while speculation swirled over who would succeed him. The Park Service did not advertise the job.
Back in January, a report released by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General said that for roughly 15 years life deep in the Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon at times reflected rowdy, sexually charged scenes from a frat party for some National Park Service employees, with male employees pawing and propositioning female workers, some of who at times exhibited their own risqué behavior.
The investigation generated a tawdry list of inappropriate behavior, from male employees taking photographs up under a female co-worker's dress and groping female workers to women dancing provocatively and bringing a drinking straw "shaped like a penis and testicles" to river parties. The incidents, a September 2014 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell charged, "demonstrated evidence of 'discrimination, retaliation, and a sexually hostile work environment.'”
The OIG's report concluded that an internal investigation by Grand Canyon National Park staff was "insufficient and incomplete." It also noted that Park Service managers, from Superintendent Uberuaga to Intermountain Regional Director Sue Masica, had been aware of the allegations prior to 2014 and yet relatively little was done to change the river culture.
According to the 13-page OIG report, Superintendent Uberuaga, when provided with the Equal Employment Opportunity report from a 2013 investigation, "did not provide the report to HR or GRCA managers, and did not request HR personnel’s opinions about potential disciplinary action against the employees named in the report. No one was disciplined for failing to properly respond to the allegations, he said, because the EEO report indicated that these failures were 'not actionable.'”
Ms. Lehnertz, in the release announcing her appointment, said, "Regarding the sexual harassment issues that we've learned about, Grand Canyon National Park now has a responsibility to lead the National Park Service in eliminating the factors that have allowed such behaviors.
"Staff and managers are already working hard to change the working environment there, to ensure that the Grand Canyon is a respectful, inclusive place to work and visit."
Intermountain Regional Director Masica added that, "We have asked Chris to lead the organization at the Grand Canyon in order to strengthen our employees' connections to the critical NPS mission and to ensure that we all perform our duties with integrity and to the highest ethical standards."
Ms. Lehnertz is scheduled to move to the canyon this fall with her spouse, Shari Dagg.