New National Park Superintendent ‘Raring to Go’

Aug. 2, 2007 — Overflowing with enthusiasm, Mark Hardgrove, 53, spoke Thursday about the challenges and pluses of his new job as superintendent of V.I. National Park and V.I. Coral Reef National Monument, both on St. John.
"I'm raring to go," he said.
Although his first day on the job isn't until Aug. 27, Hardgrove arrived on St. John Wednesday for a quick visit to the park he hopes to call home for years to come. In an unprecedented move, he called a meeting with local media on his first full day on St. John. He leaves Saturday.
Hardgrove is in the midst of meeting with staff, and plans to hold a similar meeting with the public at the park's Visitor's Center in Cruz Bay to hear their concerns and comments once he's on St. John full time, he said.
"You've got to get out and be part of the community," he said.
Hardgrove said he already knows about half the staff because he served as the St. John park's acting superintendent in the dark days following Hurricane Marilyn's devastating passage in 1995. At that time he was on a hiatus from his job as deputy superintendent at San Juan National Historic Site.
The St. John park has a staff of 60 to 70 people. Work on the park's general management plan started in 2004, but Hardgrove said it was put on hold after the previous superintendent, Art Frederick, left in September 2006. That plan will be back on the burner and more public meetings will be held, Hardgrove said.
As for the recent proposal by Delegate Donna M. Christensen to lease land from the park for a school, Hardgrove said he doesn't think that's allowable under National Park Service laws. However, he said he expects to work with the community to help solve the issue of where to place a new school.
"Land swaps are possible," he said.
Addressing the issue of short stays by previous superintendents, Hardgrove said he plans to remain on St. John as long as he can make a difference. Unlike some National Park Service employees who make quick moves to advance on the career ladder, he's known for spending long stints at parks, he said.
The son of a career government employee who worked for the General Services Administration, Hardgrove said his father told him that a job with the National Park Service was one of the best because people could see what he did.
"The National Park Service is the best idea America ever had," he said.
As a young man he had a summer job with the Bureau of Land Management, but quickly moved on the National Park Service in 1972. He spent his early park years in the maintenance division, starting out as a seasonal janitor at the C&O Canal National Historic Park in Maryland.
Hardgrove had a choice between Yellowstone National Park and the C&O Canal, but he's glad he took the one closer to his home in the Washington, D.C., area, because it gave him an entry into a Park Service career.
A big construction project in the Washington area convinced about half of the Park Service workers in that region to leave for better wages, so the park had lots of job vacancies, he explained.
This allowed him to become a permanent employee quickly, Hardgrove said. He moved up the ranks, serving at parks around the Southeast Region, including nearby Puerto Rico, until he landed five-and-a-half years ago as deputy superintendent at a trio of parks on North Carolina's Outer Banks that includes Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Along the way, he earned a bachelor's degree in public administration from LaSalle University, an online institution.
He and his wife, Millie Flores, have four children between them ages 17 to 23. Flores is an historian stationed at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in North Carolina. Hardgrove said it looks like she'll stay there and they'll have a commuter marriage.
The new superintendent sees many similarities between the North Carolina parks and the one on St. John.
"Every national park has a local community,” he said. “Just because it's in the Virgin Islands doesn't change anything.”
The national park on St. John, like parks around the country, faces infrastructure issues, Hardgrove said. To help address this problem, he'll seek additional funding to address specific issues across the parks. V.I. National Park has a regular budget of $5.1 million a year.
Additional funding should be available under the Centennial Challenge, a public-private partnership organized by the National Park Service to bring together the park and contributors. The National Park Service's centennial is in 2016, and parks across the country are working on this project.
Hardgrove said he fell in love with St. John years ago and tried several times to get a job on the island.
Now that he has landed his dream assignment, Hardgrove said he's anxious to get involved with scuba, snorkeling and hiking the park's trails.
"I'm going to walk every park trail," he vowed.
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