Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Christine Lehnertz To Become The World Renowned Grand Canyon National Park’s First-Ever Female Superintendent
by Heather Cassell
The Grand Canyon will get its first female superintendent following a sexual harassment scandal that has rocked the world renowned park in Arizona.
Christine “Chris” Lehnertz, the superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, will take the lead at the Grand Canyon National Park, announced National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis on July 19.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was reportedly instrumental in selecting Chris for the new position, according to media reports.
The National Park Service is celebrating its centennial this year.
The Grand Canyon attracts more than 5 million visitors to its 1,902 miles of vast hiking trails and breathtaking views annually.
Chris, 54, is also one of the highest-ranking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees at the NPS, takes over following GCNP Superintendent Dave Uberuaga who announced his retirement June 1. For the past month and a half two deputy superintendents have been overseeing the day-to-day operations of the park as speculation grew about who was going to succeed him, especially since the position wasn’t advertised, reports National Parks Traveler.
Dave leaves his service under a dark cloud following a 15-year sexual harassment cover up at the park’s River District. The scandal was uncovered in a highly critical report alleging evidence that he failed to address a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment among Grand Canyon park employees. The Grand Canyon wasn’t the only park to receive a scathing review regarding sexual harassment. Cape Canaveral National Seashore has also been cited for sexual harassment of female employees and as a hostile work environment for women.
“Chris brings outstanding leadership skills and an outsider’s perspective to the National Park Service,” Jon tells the San Francisco Chronicle. “Since she joined the NPS, she has helped us think differently about conservation, preservation, employee engagement and public collaboration.”
It is this perspective and vision that the NPS hope Chris will turn things around at the Grand Canyon.
Chris isn’t a stranger to handling controversy. Since being appointed to GGNRA in May 2015, Chris has navigated Bay Area politics at the park system in regard to restricted access to popular park destinations, such as Muir Woods in Marin, a reservation policy for bonfires at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and rewriting unleashed and leashed dog rules to outright bans throughout the park’s areas to name a few, reported the Bay Area Reporter. The bonfire reservation system policy was scrapped in February.
In an email saying goodbye to her GGNRA staff, Chris wrote candidly about the park’s sexual harassment scandal and how she’s been called by the Interior Secretary and NPS Director to report to the Grand Canyon as the park’s new superintendent.
“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,” writes Chris, who noted the park system’s “ups and downs” during its first 100 years, in the email obtained by the National Parks Traveler.
“We can’t wait another moment for this to change dramatically, or for the NPS to honestly, directly, and completely address these issues,” continues Chris.
Texas born and Colorado raised, Chris obtained her degree as an environmental biologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder. It is in the Rocky Mountains that she launched her career that has taken her to a number of conservation agencies, including the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where she spent 16 years before joining the NPS. In 2007, she joined the NPS as deputy superintendent at Yellowstone National Park.
Last year, Chris came to the San Francisco Bay Area where she oversaw the protection and care of more than 80,000 acres of parklands that make up the GGNRA. In her role, she also provided a wide variety of recreational opportunities for more than 15 million visitors to the park system.
Chris will move to Arizona in August with her wife, Shari Dagg, and the couple’s cat Choco, whom they rescued while she was stationed at Yellowstone, reported the B.A.R.
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