Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Lesbian GGNRA superintendent being sent to Grand Canyon

Christine Lehnertz, the superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, has been reassigned to the Grand Canyon. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Christine Lehnertz, the superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, has been reassigned to the Grand Canyon. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Christine Lehnertz, the superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is being reassigned to oversee the Grand Canyon National Park, which is still reeling from a sexual harassment scandal.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis made the announcement Tuesday afternoon. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was reportedly instrumental in selecting Lehnertz for the new position.

The news comes after Dave Uberuaga announced he would retire as superintendent of the Grand Canyon park June 1. His decision followed the release of a scathing report in January that criticized him for failing to address “evidence of a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment’’ among park service employees assigned to the Grand Canyon.

“Chris brings outstanding leadership skills and an outsider’s perspective to the National Park Service. Since she joined the NPS, she has helped us think differently about conservation, preservation, employee engagement and public collaboration,” Jarvis stated, according to a story on SFGate.

A lesbian and one of the highest-ranking LGBT employees with the National Park Service, Lehnertz, 54, will be the first female superintendent of the internationally renowned Arizona park. She is scheduled to relocate in August with her wife, Shari Dagg, and Choco, a “courageous cat” they rescued when she worked at Yellowstone National Park.

“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,” Lehnertz wrote in an email announcing her departure to her staff at GGNRA that was obtained by 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. 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.”

Born in Texas but raised in Colorado, Lehnertz graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder and began her career in the Rocky Mountains. She worked for a variety 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 before joining the park service in 2007 as Yellowstone’s deputy superintendent.

In 2010 she was named the regional director for the park service’s Pacific West region. And last year she was named superintendent of the sprawling Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which encompasses multiple properties in three Bay Area counties.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a story in April, Lehnertz is no stranger to handling park service controversies. Her yearlong tenure overseeing the GGNRA has included a series of public outcries.

She has had to respond to inflamed opinions over everything from bonfire policies at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, restricting access to more popular sites like Muir Woods in Marin, and the rewriting of rules for where dogs can be walked off leash and are banned outright throughout the park’s many sites.

— Matthew S. Bajko, July 20, 2016 @ 5:31 pm PST
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