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Carlsbad Caverns National Park Shares Superintendent With Guadalupe Mountains National Park


Dennis Vásquez will serve as superintendent for both Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns national parks for the next three months. NPS photo.

For the next three months, Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns national parks in New Mexico and Texas will share a superintendent.

Dennis Vásquez will hold down the two jobs while a search is conducted for a permanent superintendent for Carlsbad Caverns.

Superintendent Vásquez, who has been overseeing Guadalupe Mountains National Park, accepted the dual-role that he expects will be “fulfilling and challenging.”

Even though Vásquez has visited more than 200 of the 401 national park properties, Carlsbad Caverns National Park was the first park he visited as a child. He has fond memories of coming to the caverns and touring with his family.

“I feel honored to be back in Carlsbad Caverns managing this park when this is where my love of national parks started,” he said. “Plus, my brothers and father think it’s really special that I’ve returned to the first park we ever visited.”

Vásquez has worked in Guadalupe Mountains National Park since 2011, when he came from Washington, D.C., where he served as program manager for the National Museum of the American Latino Commission for two years.

Having spent more than 30 years with the Park Service, Vásquez has held a variety of positions, including five years as Superintendent of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Kansas. He also served as superintendent at two New Mexico parks, Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico as well as White Sands National Monument in the central part of the state.

Vásquez worked as a service-wide training manager at the Horace Albright Employee Development Center in Grand Canyon National Park, a trustee at Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico, and in West Virginia at a National Park Service Interpretive Media training center, Harper’s Ferry Center. In addition, Vásquez has spent time as chief naturalist in Big Bend National Park in Texas and a district ranger at Sunset Crater-Wupatki National Monument in Arizona.

Vásquez started his career as a park ranger, in 1977, at White Sands National Monument, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso. After nine years at White Sands he moved to Yosemite National Park in California where he became a supervisory park ranger, then to Joshua Tree National Park, also in California, in the same capacity.

“Being in the field is my favorite part of being a ranger,” Vásquez said recently while hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. “I have gained such a full range of experience working for the Park Service and thoroughly enjoy being out in the resource.”

Vásquez said he’s really looking forward to the chance to learn Carlsbad Caverns National Park and all it has to offer – above and below ground. “I’m really looking forward to the challenges that managing two parks will bring.”

A permanent superintendent will be chosen from a pool of candidates sometime at the beginning of 2014.


Why are there always the long gaps before a position is filled? Couldn't they plan ahead and have a replacement ready to go before someone retires; is promoted; or transfered?

In the Interior agency I worked for (not NPS), employee cost was programmed into the annual budget each year. Vacancies frequently were used as a means of 'freeing up' money for other uses. It is not uncommon for vacancies to exist for up to 9 months. The money allocated for salaries and benefits gets spent somewhere else. The duties are frequently, as they are in this case, shared by some other employee. I've always wondered if we can go most of a year with a shared position, why can't we simply eliminate the duplicate and reduce the agency FTE by one, but that's just me...

Mike, nine months would be warp speed in the NPS unless it is a HQ position like a secrectary to a superintendent. Vacancies that put more work, or inconvenience, on someone with power get filled fast. One case comes to mind of a district supervisor for interpretation at a park who had stepped on the wrong toe and got packed off to do some meaningless busy work leaving a seasonal GS-7 in her place to supervise ten seasonal GS-5s. This went on for more than two years before they got a permanent replacement in there and I think that replacement was someone in a student program making a lot less money and at a lower pay grade than the person who held the position before.

The seasonal 7 who had been filling in before got back to back rehires to keep the place staffed and then as compensation they used her seasonal park ranger appointment to rehire her to a headquarters job that was outside her job series but they did it anyway. On paper she was a seasonal GS-7 Park Ranger but in reality she was doing secretarial and clerical work at HQ --until someone blew the whistle.

Perhaps things have changed in the dozen years since I left the NPS, but I suspect one of the reasons for the lag in filling many permanent jobs is the need to accumulate money from the unfilled position to pay for moving expenses for the incoming employee. I never knew of a park with enough "cushion" in the budget to set aside money for a move, even if they knew in advance it was coming up.

If the goal, as it should be, is to fill a vacancy with the best qualified person, the selecting official won't know until he or she has the final list of candidates where that person may be moving from, and prudent managers therefore will "lapse" the position long enough to accumulate funds for that move.

Relocation expenses are not paid for every government move; for lower graded positions or any job for which there is expected to be an adequate pool of qualified applicants not too far away, I believe the agency has the option of advertising the job without reimbursement for a move.

And yes, the better companies in the private sector frequently pay relocation expenses (and they can be more generous than the government.)

Finally, I believe filling some managment positions such as superintendents may require approval from above the NPS level (maybe at least Interior?)

Hey Jim, I enjoyed Hey Ranger, I recommend it to people and sugguest they follow it with Andrea Lankfords "Ranger Confidential" to get sort of the upbeat humorous view of ranger work and the not so fun grim side of the job.

As for payment of relocation expenses, that are rare these days for all but upper level positions but then so are any permanent jobs that aren't at the higher levels.

I was the "official superintendent" of these two parks before their management positions were separated. Karen Wade was the first superintentendent appointed solely for Guadalupe.


I've seen management vacancies occur because a now-gone manager had followed his or her path, and then when it was time to backfill a decision was made "Congress just imposed an across the boards XYZ% budget cut, and instead of having to lay off employees we will just not fill that management position this year". It isn't a bad way to go, other than the for whoever has to double up and do the mandatory work of the unfilled position.

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