Jim Vekasi, the chief of maintenance at Acadia National Park, received an honor award from the Department of the Interior on November 15th.
Vekasi, who has served in this position for 20 years, was in Philadelphia to present a program on how to be a successful chief for the Northeast Regional Office’s training for new chiefs and superintendents when the award was presented.
In his time as chief of maintenance, Vekasi has managed to rehabilitate all major visitor facilities and the vast majority of the park’s infrastructure, including 119 miles of paved road, 62 parking lots, and 47 bridges. It is a testament to his skills as an engineer and a manager that these projects have met with success.
Over the past 15 years, Vekasi has personally overseen over $100 million dollars in appropriated park improvements in addition to his regular duties. By many measures, these ‘regular’ duties are extraordinary as well -- Vekasi is responsible for overseeing a fleet of 150 vehicles and pieces of equipment, a 131 mile system of hiking trails, 23 employee housing structures, thousands of signs, government-owned concessions facilities, and the offices for five park divisions.
He has also been instrumental in transforming St. Croix International Historic Site (an NPS unit two hours from Acadia where he also manages maintenance) from essentially an unattended wayside to a fully functional park unit with an interpretive trail, parking area, ranger station, comfort station, maintenance building.
Among his many accomplishments, one of the most complex and most successful has been his work in helping transform a former Navy base into Acadia’s Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC). This portion of the park is a massive facility in its own right, containing 38 major buildings, 32 apartment units, a dining hall, barracks, a gym, and all of the furnishings that went with them. Under ten years of Jim’s expert guidance and project management, Acadia invested nearly $18,000,000 dollars to remove 16 excess buildings, build a state of the art auditorium, convert the bowling alley into a 71-bed bunkhouse.
Under Vekasi’s guidance, contracts are underway at Schoodic to reconfigure the roads, convert three buildings to classrooms, and add the lighting, landscaping and signs to convert the former base into an attractive and viable campus for science, education and other mission related activity. This major effort combined about 10 years of project work into 18 months and will position the SERC facility to develop a wide range of science, education, and youth oriented programs and activities serving Acadia and the National Park System as a whole. Acadia is also using park fee revenues to convert the former officers club into the dining hall and lounge building for the SERC campus which will soon serve up to 200 people overnight. Acadia will be using private donations and other fee revenue to make the historic Rockefeller building into the campus reception and exhibit hall.
All of these projects have benefited immensely from Jim’s expert advice, leadership and management to get them in the pipeline for funding, obtain the necessary approvals, and to work though compliance, design and construction with staff and public input as needed.
His workload and the process required to get approvals and funding have increased dramatically over the years and yet his positive attitude and expertise have resulted in numerous major improvements to facilities, infrastructure, and operations at Acadia National Park, which serves nearly 2.5M visitors annually. Many visitors comment on how clean and well maintained the park is and that is a direct result of Jim Vekasi’s leadership and talents.
Along the way Jim has made significant improvements in maintenance operations, park wide safety and environmental management, and energy conservation. He is a recognized national leader in maintenance operations and programming. A visitor to Acadia or Saint Croix would be hard pressed to stand anywhere in the Park and not see something improved by Jim.
Acadia Superintendant Sheridan Steele said of Vekasi’s work: "Jim was truly the person who managed dozens of projects at Acadia from the concept and planning stage all the way though internal approval processes and then the construction phase. He always coordinated with numerous other interests and was sensitive to protecting park resources as well as the visitor experience. The final products of his labor have improved Acadia National Park facilities and in the end have provided for greater visitor enjoyment."