Dava Davy McGahee, cultural resources program manager for Capitol Reef National Park, will be retiring on December 1st with 21 years of federal service, almost all with the National Park Service.
Dava grew up on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida and received a BA degree in anthropology from the University of South Florida. Her field work as an anthropologist was done in Guatemala through the Universidad de San Carlos. Later, she earned an MS in sociology, an MA in world history, and certification as a funeral director.
Dava began her federal career in 1972 with the Veterans Administration as an adjudicator. She quickly transferred to the NPS when a new ranger skills class was offered at the Horace Albright Training Center in the Grand Canyon: “This was an intensive field training program that immersed us in the history, management practices and ranger skills specific to the NPS”. She recalls that “while participating in the search and rescue training, the instructor broke his leg in a fall, making the exercise come to life!”
After the five month training session at Grand Canyon and another NPS session in environmental education at George Williams College in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Dava was assigned to Saguaro National Monument. She then moved to her first park ranger position in law enforcement and living history interpretation at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. The next opportunity was at Ocmulgee National Monument as the archaeologist, overseeing the Southeast Region archaeological collection. She supervised the American Indian living history partner program with the Creek Nation and the major resurfacing of the prehistoric Earth Lodge. She also established a National Environmental Study Area (NESA) and wrote the Teachers’ Guide for the Mother Earth NESA.
The next exciting challenge took her to the newly established and remote Guadalupe Mountains National Park as the first chief of interpretation. Here she wrote The Pinery Station, produced the parks first media with the artists in residence program, and developed designs for the new visitor center exhibits.
At this time she and her husband, Carl, also produced their first daughter. A break in service was in order, as they subsequently had four more children. During the “break,” Dava and Carl opened a new whole foods business and restaurant in New Mexico called “Essential Ingredients.” She later taught school in Connecticut and developed an after school environmental education business, “Nature Fun Club.”
In 1995, Dava rejoined the National Park Service in Santa Fe as a curation technician working on NAGPRA research. In 1998 she was permanently reinstated at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, where she rotated to manage three of the four missions, Rancho de las Cabras, the visitor center, and the volunteer program over the next twelve years. Here she developed permanent exhibits at Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, and Mission San Juan Capistrano, earning Star Awards.
She also implemented 24 cell phone tours for sites throughout the park. Her liaison work for Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan with Florentine Films resulted in the filming of “Untold Stories: San Antonio Missions: Keeping History Alive” as part of The National Parks series. This was one of the highlight opportunities of her tenure.
Dava says she was offered her “dream job” as the cultural resources program manager at Capitol Reef National Park in 2010: “I have wanted to protect the cultural resources of this park since my first visit in 1994. I have loved every one of my parks, but it is possible that the best was saved for the last.”
“Working here to preserve the historic and prehistoric resources, hiking and horseback riding into the jaw-dropping wilderness landscapes to conduct surveys, and working on tribal partnerships, has been the icing on my National Park Service career cake,” she says. “A heartfelt thanks to everyone who has assisted me along the path from 1973 to the present.”
Dava was twice the recipient of the Edwin C. Bearss NPS Fellowship (2002 and 2003) and awarded an NPS Conrad-Wirth Grant in 2004-2005, as well as the Spirit of Service Award – Learn and Serve America - in 2007.
Dava’s next life chapter includes continued hiking and kayaking adventures with her husband and friends, worldwide travel, scuba diving and snorkeling, and volunteering. They will catch up with their five children who are working worldwide.
Dava can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook. She will check snail mail at 7970 West River Bend Rd., Crystal River, FL 34428