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NPS Directors and Fran's Departure


    Very few things are as they appear in Washington.
    Take Fran's resignation. She claimed it was due to her desire to spend more time with her parents, who she said are in declining health. That might be. Yet she supposedly also has been telling colleagues she would head anywhere in the country for the right job.
    On top of that, scuttlebutt has it that Brian Waidman, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's chief of staff, just might have suggested to Fran that it was time to begin planning her park visits as a private citizen.
    And that wouldn't be terribly surprising. After all, there have been rumblings that Dirk was not happy with the way Fran handled the whole Management Policies rewrite, particularly the part where the folks over at the American Recreation Coalition were, and remain, quite peeved over the latest version that Fran supposedly intends to sign off on.
    I mean, if you were the Interior secretary and your parks director had just irritated one of your largest fan bases, what would you do? Still, it's disconcerting that politicians would feel so beholden to special interests that heads would roll in this situation. Especially when you consider that Dirk thought that version was pretty darn good, too.
    I can't say the park system will be worse off without Fran. But then, it's not clear yet who will succeed her

    At the same time, as I alluded to in my post on NPS directors, Fran can not be described as the staunchest advocate for the park system.
    Just in the past year alone she, 1) initially supported Paul Hoffman's disturbing rewrite of the Management Policies; 2) was poised to overhaul how companies could be promoted in the parks in a fashion that would allow them to be more visible, and; 3) told parks to figure out how to get by on 80 percent of their budgets.
    Beyond that, for six years Fran has flitted about the parks, visiting as many as she could. That was one of her goals, you know. When, having announced her resignation, she was asked by a reporter what her greatest regret was, her supposed response was not that parks are suffering financially but rather that she had not been able to visit every park!
    Second on her list of regrets, I hear, was not being able to become the longest-tenured NPS director. (She didn't come close; Conrad Wirth served 12 years and a month.)
    In my post about other NPS directors, I touched on a few who proved themselves to be true advocates for the system they were in charge of. One I neglected to highlight was Ron Walker, who served but two short years under President Nixon.
    Outwardly, Director Walker, who was just 32 when he came aboard, doesn't stand out. He wasn't a career Park Service employee. In fact, he had been a travel advance man for President Nixon, and an insurance salesman prior to that. Not the strongest pedigree for parks director, eh?
    But he was astute.
    One of his first decisions was to hire Russ Dickenson as his deputy. Another was to use the press in the park system's best interests. For instance, when the Park Service's budget was ailing, Director Walker reached out to reporters to chronicle the tough times that parks were facing. That led to a ground-breaking story by the old Minneapolis Star, and then similar coverage by The Associated Press.
Now, while similar strategies have been used by some Park Service directors down through the years, Fran --cognizant that you don't rock this administration's boat -- apparently made it clear to her staff that she wanted to encourage no such stories. And that no doubt explains her tough upper lip when it came to defending her budget to congressional committees whose members pointed to problems in the park system.
    Thankfully, the media these days need no invitation to chronicle the plight of the national park system.

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