By Denise Hight, Operations Manager —
Lisa Eckert didn’t know she would become a park ranger during her childhood in Madison, Wisconsin, but she did know she wanted to work outdoors. Some of her fondest childhood memories include walking across frozen lakes in the winter and skipping across fields of wildflowers in the spring, carrying her cello and picking violets on the way to her music lessons. Her family didn’t camp or hike or visit national parks, but she grew up inspired by the Land Ethic of conservationist Aldo Leopold, whose aura infiltrated the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus where she later attended school. Although imbued with a love of the outdoors, Lisa first majored in French and then Education, before graduating with a degree in Biological Aspects of Conservation. It was a summer spent in Yellowstone after her freshman year at college that inspired her to switch to biological science, even though she had not felt encouraged in math or science during high school.
Before traveling to Yellowstone, where Lisa worked as a waitress for a park concessionaire, Lisa had never traveled west of the Mississippi River. She had always wanted to travel west, and when she arrived, she was awestruck by a landscape that was vastly different from that of her native Wisconsin. It filled her with questions such as “Why are the trees different here?” and “How did the mountains form?” Lisa went back to college with a mission, changed her major, and set about to learn geology and biology, the sciences of the land.
Lisa’s adventures in the west not only opened up the world for herself, but also for her family. In subsequent summers spent at Yellowstone, where she started her National Park Service career, her family visited her, and she took them hiking and camping. Her sister and brother followed in her footsteps and both found summer jobs in Yellowstone.
Lisa says her primary characteristics are her sense of curiosity and her sense of adventure, and that the theme of her life has been to “seize every opportunity, both personally and professionally.” She says she has always been ready to “try something new and go to new places.” Her career in the National Park Service has been a perfect fit for her sense of adventure, as she has worked in twelve different national parks in locations as varied as Denali in Alaska to Grand Canyon, as well as New York City and Washington, D.C. Although she has happy memories of every place she has worked, she has a special spot in her heart for Denali National Park and Preserve because of its sense of space and place. “Everything there is so big and so empty that you feel tiny and humble. It’s a good place to get a proper perspective of the world.”
She also feels a particular affinity for the red rock canyon country of the west, including Colorado National Monument, where she worked as a seasonal Park Service employee during the 1980s and early 90s. She has many stories about her time here, such as researching and portraying Beatrice Farnham and talking about John Otto for the Monument’s “Living History” presentations. She also presented a program on how animals see at night, which she developed after she worked as a patrol ranger on the night shift and she would see animals’ eyes illuminated in her car headlights. These incidents made her curious about the nocturnal wildlife in the Monument.
When Lisa isn’t working, she loves to travel, both in the United States and internationally. In December 2008 and January 2009, she took a 17-day trek to Nepal, where she hiked to the base camp at Mt. Everest. She has also traveled to East Africa twice, where she rented a jeep, met the locals, and took photographic safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, and the Seychelles. She has also traveled abroad for her job, including her participation in a detail opportunity in Croatia where she taught returning war refugees ‘ranger skills’ including ‘interpretive skills’ which was all then translated to the group by a language interpreter.
The job of park superintendent carries a great deal of responsibility and accountability. The superintendent is ultimately responsible for the park budget, all park-related incidents including visitor and resource protection. But Lisa comes well-prepared for the job. About half of Lisa’s 30-year career with the National Park Service has been in superintendent positions. She said she became an “accidental superintendent” when she was a division chief and was encouraged to apply to become a park manager in Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in North Dakota. She took a leap of faith, and has been in superintendent positions ever since, such as her preceding position as superintendent at the Horace Albright Training Center in Grand Canyon.
When Lisa found out she got the job of superintendent here, she said “I was so excited. It felt like I was coming home.” Lisa’s first priority at Colorado National Monument is to study the 2005 General Management Plan for the Monument, in order to understand and know the Monument’s resources and goals of the plan. Her other goal is to understand all of the special requests and uses of Rim Rock Drive, and she wants to meet and talk with the citizens of the Grand Valley, of course. Lisa, who derives her energy from the outdoors, is also excited about exploring the red rock canyons, and about exploring the myriad of outdoor opportunities in Colorado.
CNMA members will have a chance to meet Lisa at the CNMA annual meeting at the Fruita Community center on June 5.
Coming next month in the CNMA newsletter: Lisa will reveal how she captured a grizzly bear with only her bare hands and a rope when posted at Yellowstone!