Possible changes concern park chief

The National Park Service is considering a possible regional realignment that could impact parks in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia.

Jim Northup, superintendent of Shenandoah National Park as well as Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, expressed concerns over the possible realignment at a meeting of the Federal Advisory Commission for Cedar Creek this week.

Most of Virginia’s 21 national parks — including Shenandoah and Cedar Creek — are managed under the Northeast Region. The park service may move those parks into the National Capital Region, which houses landmarks such as the National Mall and Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.

“There are a number of superintendents in the state of Virginia who are concerned about this reorganization. I happen to be among them,” Northup said.

He added that he is concerned about the National Capital Region’s capacity to support Virginia parks.

“It would be a huge additional workload for them to begin to support all of the parks in Virginia and all of the programs in parks that we depend upon from the regional office for,” Northup added.

In addition, Northup said the parks receive specialized assistance and repair and rehabilitation funding from the Northeast Region office. According to the U.S. Department of Interior, these funds are used to improve “the accessibility of [park service] infrastructure as well as support projects that lead to greater water and energy efficiency at park units.”

Northup noted, “We have long-standing, very effective relationships with our counterparts in the [Northeast] Regional office.”

Pending approval, Northup said he felt that moving the parks under the Capital Region would cause the parks to “lose momentum” until the regional relationships are formed.

He said that he did not believe the possible realignment would affect the experiences of park visitors. “I don’t think that the visitors would notice in most cases.”

The Northeast Regional office houses more than 70 national parks stretching from Virginia all the way up to Maine. The National Capital Region is home to more than 30 parks located within the Washington, D.C., metro area. Some of the parks within that region are located in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. One such example is Manassas National Battlefield Park.

“We were told that part of the concern was that having states with parks that are in different regions was confusing to some of our partners,” Northrup said.

The realignment is being looked into by the park service, with Bob Vogel, National Capital Regional director, and Mike Caldwell, Northeast Regional director, leading the study.

In a joint email to park service employees on March 17, Vogel and Caldwell said the realignment could “clarify points of contact” for park officials and strengthen relationships in the regions.

Along with the concerns Northup expressed this week, he said that he thinks the possible realignment could carry some positives with it.

“There could be some benefits in terms of tourism promotion,” Northup said. However, he said that he is still concerned about what the realignment would mean for the parks, and that he has expressed these concerns to his superiors “in an appropriate manner.”

“I think these kinds of decisions should be based on ‘what’s best for the parks?'” he said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com