After about 10 months, the Natinal Park Service has filled the top position in the V.I. National Park with a permanent appointment.
Mark Hardgrove was named Superintendent of the VINP in late July, replacing Acting Superintendent Martha Bogle who has run the park since April.
Before Bogle, Walter Chavez filled in as acting superintendent starting in October 2006 after Superintendent Art Frederick left the VINP for a National Park Service deputy regional director position in September 2006.
Hardgrove, who has four grown children and whose wife is a historian for the NPS, brings years of experience and a sense of duty to the job, his first superintendent position.
“Parks are like kids, you love them all, but this one is mine,” said Hardgrove. “I waited 35 years to have my first park and I’m really excited about this.”
Back on Island
The position is also somewhat of a homecoming for Hardgrove, who served as acting superintendent for the VINP for the Hurricane Marilyn recovery effort.
While the new VINP superintendent has been in the NPS since 1972, Hardgrove started working for the government while he was still in high school in Washington, D.C.
“A year before I started with the NPS, I worked for the Bureau of Land Management between my 11th and 12th grades,” said Hardgrove. “Then after graduation I got hired as a seasonal worker at Yellowstone and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Site.”
While he’s full of hard work and determination, fate and luck had a part in turning Hardgrove’s seasonal work into a career.
Inspired by Outdoors
“I’m really glad that I didn’t go to Yellowstone,” said Hardgrove. “When I was in D.C. that first year, they started digging the Metro and hundreds of people quit and went to work for the subway line making more money than they did for the NPS. It allowed me to get a permanent position.”
The avid outdoorsman — a self-proclaimed very young 53-year-old — also had personal reasons for getting interested in
“My father retired from General Services Administration where he was director of personnel,” said Hardgrove. “He always said the best job in government is NPS. He said it’s where you can make a difference.”
“After all his years working for the government, people still didn’t understand what he did,” Hardgrove continued. “He always wanted to work for the NPS, so I guess it’s thanks to him, too, that I got started.”
From the first job at C&O Canal, it was clear that he was cut out for the job, Hardgrove explained.
“Raring To Go”
“I love what I do,” he said. “I love being a good neighbor and I love being part of communities. I’m raring to go.”
After securing a permanent position with the maintenance division of the NPS, Hardgrove quickly moved up the ranks. He worked five jobs in the nation’s capital region, including LBJ Memorial Grove in D.C.
Hardgrove has also held positions at Valley Forge National Historic Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Cumberland Island National Seashore, San Juan National Historic Site — where he was the deputy superintendent — and the three parks which comprise the Outer Banks Group in North Carolina, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Monument and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
Long Tenures at Parks
Somewhat of a rarity in the park service, the new VINP superintendent has worked in only three parks in the last 20 years. Having spent 11 years in San Juan and the past five and a half years as deputy superintendent in North Carolina, Hardgrove intends to stay at the VINP for a while.
“In upper management, it’s all about relationships,” said the new VINP superintendent. “It’s about a commitment. It’s a lot like life — in order to make a difference you must get out there and be a part of the community.”
“I intend to stay and do the job as long as I feel like I can make a difference,” he added. “I’m not overwhelmed by challenges.”
Although only on island for a few days last week — Hardgrove expects to officially start work on August 22 — the new superintendent already has an idea of the important issues he’ll be facing.
Community and Park Collaboration
“We need for the community and the park service to work together for a location for a school,” said Hardgrove. “I will work hard to get up to speed on that and work for a solution. I’m not sure if a lease is legally the way to go — there are other alternatives.”
Hardgrove also intends to continue work on the General Management Plan, improve the park’s funding capacity and ensure the VINP receives its fair share of Centennial Funds, which are available to parks across the country in anticipation of the 2016 Centennial Celebration of the founding of the NPS.
The avid swimmer, snorkeler, jogger, motorcycle racer and soon-to-be diver, Hardgrove intends to familiarize himself with all aspects of the VINP.
“I will walk every trail and every beach,” said Hardgrove. “I will dive every site. I will know this park.”
“I have the greatest job in the NPS,” he added.
Dream Come True
While definitely aware of the difficulty of his position, Hardgrove is having the time of his life.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I got up this morning and walked to the beach and I couldn’t think of any other place in the world I would rather work or live. I can’t stop smiling — it’s a dream.”
“It’s just awesome here,” Hardgrove added.
The new VINP superintendent plans to have an open listening session sometime within his first month on the job and made himself available to all organizations on island.
“Partnership opportunities are everywhere,” said Hardgrove.