Head of parks to retire

Jim Northup

Jim Northup, superintendent of Shenandoah National Park as well as Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park in Middletown, has announced his retirement, effective Jan. 2. He served in those roles for just shy of four years, beginning his tenure in March 2013.

His work with the National Park Service starting in 1979, Northup’s retirement bookends a life dedicated to both public service and the conservation and preservation of America’s national parks.

“I’ve found being a park superintendent very satisfying,” he said. “I also served as superintendent at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (in Michigan). As a superintendent of a park you do a lot of external affairs work. I’ve found it enormously satisfying to lead a team and also to be an ambassador for the park and to the surrounding communities.”

Northup began his career in the very park in which he will end it.

“I started out a seasonal interpretive ranger at Shenandoah National Park in 1979 – leading walks and talks – but then was interested in doing more of the protection ranger activities,” he said. “That’s one of the things that’s been really fun about a ranger career. You get to do a lot of different things. You might be capturing a bear in a campground one day and rappelling down a cliff to rescue an injured hiker the next day.”

Jennifer Flynn

The bulk of Northup’s National Park Service career was in that protection ranger role, serving as such for 24 years. Protection rangers work in the law enforcement, emergency medical services and firefighting realms.

The outgoing superintendent said his interest in the National Park Service began early on.

“I was really inspired to a conservation career with the original Earth Day in 1970 as a high school student,” he said. “I fell in love very early with the mission of the National Park Service. The National Park Service is an agency that now manages 413 individual sites. Our primary mission is to preserve and protect these places. I found that work very inspiring. I’ve found it particularly inspiring to live and work in the special places and be a small part of preserving and protecting them in perpetuity.”

Northup explained why he felt it was time to retire.

“It’s just time,” he said. “This year was our centennial for the National Park Service and I wanted to be around for that. I’ve had an absolutely wonderful career. It’s been a great privilege. I’m at the point now where I have my health and can afford to retire. I’m going to spend time exploring parks on my own, traveling and enjoying my family.”

Northup’s wife Phyllis is an artist who specializes in national park landscapes.

A father of two daughters, and grandfather to one with another on the way, said part of his retirement will also be spent on his hobbies.

“I’m a pretty avid tennis player,” he said. “I hope to hone my tennis game a bit. I’m hoping to become a competent fly fisherman and I have a strong interest in travel. As long as my body holds up, I hope to be out there hiking, climbing, skiing and doing fun things.”

Replacing Northup as acting superintendent will be Jennifer Flynn, who served as deputy superintendent under Northup. She will assume that role until a permanent replacement is selected.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com.