Al Hendricks, the superintendent of Capitol Reef National Park, will retire on September 3rd after 42 years of government service, all with the National Park Service.
Al’s first assignment began in June, 1970, at Mammoth Cave National Park, where he led cave tours and worked briefly as a fire control aid, staffing one of the park’s fire towers.
In March, 1972, Al became the first ranger assigned to the remote Maze District of Canyonlands National Park when Bates Wilson was superintendent. In what he considered a nearly perfect assignment for a young ranger, Al was handed a map, a canteen and the keys to a 4x4 pickup truck, and told by Chuck Budge, the park’s chief ranger, to “go learn the district.”
Other early career jobs followed, with a “split-position” assignment at St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area. In late 1973, after six months in each park, the St. Croix superintendent was able to have the position changed to year-round on the riverway, where Al continued to serve as the South District Ranger.
While completing Law Enforcement Class 14 at the CFLETC in Washington, D.C. in 1974, Al was offered the Old Faithful naturalist position in Yellowstone National Park. Brief, busy summers were paired with dramatic winters in the Upper Geyser Basin. What better daily commute than the mile cross-country ski to the Old Faithful Visitor Center, past steaming hot springs and geysers in a thermal area filled with wildlife?
Al’s management career began in May 1976, when he accepted the area manager position at Jewel Cave National Monument. He was fortunate to be there when Herb and Jan Conn were still actively exploring and mapping into the unknown. His first cave surveying trip with Herb and Jan successfully mapped cave mile 55. Today, over 162 miles of Jewel Cave have been mapped.
Moving from one remarkable cave to another, Al began his first superintendent assignment 31 years ago in 1981, when Western Regional Director Howard Chapman offered him that position at Lehman Caves National Monument in Nevada. He was there at a very fortuitous time, as the movement to establish Great Basin National Park was just picking up steam.
Al worked closely with then Congressman Harry Reid, and NPS Legislative Affairs Office staff in identifying resource values that should be included in the park (bristlecone pine groves, additional caves, American Indian cultural sites, alpine lakes, striking glacial geology, and more), developing boundary recommendations and serving as the NPS on-site representative, leading to park establishment in 1986. Al continued to serve as Great Basin’s first superintendent until 1995, leading the general management plan process and organizing the park infrastructure.
From early 1995 through late 1998, Al served as the superintendent of Crater Lake National Park. While there, he saw the completion of the Crater Lake Lodge restoration and, perhaps just as significantly, he oversaw the nomination and listing of the Rim Village National Historic District. He also completed a critical visitor services plan that identified realistic development needs, leading to a reduction in the facility footprint at Rim Village.
Since November 1998, Al has been the superintendent of Capitol Reef National Park. By necessity, he became an expert on the interpretation of Revised Statute 2477, a Civil War era federal provision providing for state and county right of way ownership across public lands. This occasionally leads to conflict when local governments wish to construct improvements on roads that NPS management plans identify as more primitive. Al cites the current unchanged road status throughout the park, which meets the approved NPS development plan, as one of his major successes at Capitol Reef.
This status was maintained in the face of considerable pressure to change road character which would have changed the visitor experience. Capitol Reef remains a park where one can talk with a ranger, hike a trail, drive a back road, or pick some fruit in an historic park orchard. Maintaining this classic park ambience has been a hallmark of Al’s tenure at Capitol Reef National Park.
“It has been a privilege and an honor to have been able to help protect the national parks for forty-two years of the Service’s 96 year history,” says Al. “Increasingly, management challenges are often associated with the expectations of the information age. Keeping those expectations in perspective is important. Assuring that the original values of park protection are the priority will be a continuing concern and a significant issue for managers. With an eye on the resources, I am confident that the NPS will continue to preserve what is the best of America.”