Joe Zarki, chief of interpretation and education at Joshua Tree National Park, will retire on January 3rd following a 39-year career with the Federal government, all but one of those years with the National Park Service.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, and a graduate of Gettysburg College, Joe began his Park Service career in 1973 at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Monument. His first summer seasonal job in 1974 was as an interpretive ranger at Badlands National Park. He was also a seasonal law enforcement ranger at Mount McKinley National Park from 1975 to 1978. His first permanent position as a park technician came in 1980 at Tuzigoot National Monument.
He left Tuzigoot in the summer of 1982 for Yellowstone. where he worked as an interpretive ranger in the Division of Interpretation at Yellowstone. There he co-authored the “Expedition: Yellowstone!” environmental education curriculum and led the park’s first residential education program from 1987 until 1990. In the summer of 1988, Joe gained media relations experience while tasked to the Yellowstone fires, and he later helped plan and develop post-fire interpretive media and education curricula. He also was tabbed in 1989 to serve on an NPS task force to develop an outreach campaign about the proposal to restore wolf populations to the Yellowstone Ecosystem.
In 1990, Joe returned to Badlands as chief of interpretation and cultural resource management. At Badlands he helped establish the park’s first paleontologist and education specialist positions and developed an education and outreach program for the reintroduction of endangered black-footed ferrets to the park in 1994.
Joe arrived at Joshua Tree in January, 1995, just after the area had been renamed a national park by the Desert Protection Act. Much work was needed to revise and update old interpretive media. Museum exhibits, waysides, and many trail exhibits were replaced. The guided tour program at Keys Ranch was expanded, and living history tours were added for visitors. The park’s education program grew to become one of the largest of its kind in the National Park Service.
During his tenure at Joshua Tree, a full-time volunteer coordinator position was added and the number of park volunteers more than doubled. A strong advocate for interpretive professionalism, Joe became a founding member of Pacific West Region’s Interpretive Advisory Group in 1995 and represented the region on the National Interpretive Advisory Council from 1996 to 1998.
Joe worked to elevate awareness of desert conservationist Minerva Hamilton Hoyt and her role in getting Joshua Tree National Monument established in 1936. He proposed the creation of an annual conservation award, the Minerva Hoyt California Desert Conservation Award, under the sponsorship of the Joshua Tree National Park Association, and he oversaw the creation of a mural of Hoyt that graces the outside of the Oasis Visitor Center at park headquarters. Zarki also led an eight-year effort to have a peak within the park named for Hoyt as a legacy to her desert conservation work. A dedication ceremony for the naming of Mount Minerva Hoyt is being planned for late March, 2013.
Other accomplishments included the establishment of the Desert Institute and its weekend field classes in 1999, coordinating the park’s celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Desert Protection Act in 2004, and developing the initial plans for the activities and special events associated with the park’s 75th anniversary celebration in 2011.
Joe met his wife, Marilyn Lutz, at Yellowstone in 1985. They have one son, Tim Zarki, an industrial design major at the University of Cincinnati. Marilyn works in the Joshua Tree maintenance division. Following his retirement, Joe plans to volunteer for the park doing citizen science, undertake some writing projects, and work on his guitar playing.
“Working for the national parks has truly been a labor of love,” Joe said of his NPS career. “There are so many good things that have happened to me because of my association with the National Park Service. I’m thankful for the wonderful experiences the parks have brought me and grateful to all the outstanding people I’ve worked with over the years.”
Joe can be reached at email@example.com or 61231 Prescott Trail, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, 760-366-8913.