Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent to Lead Natchez Trace Parkway
Contact: Dan Johnson, Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services, (435) 781-7702
Dinosaur, CO – Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin recently announced the selection of Mary Risser, a 32-year career employee of the National Park Service (NPS), and Superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument to serve as Superintendent of Natchez Trace Parkway. Risser is currently on assignment as Acting Deputy Regional Director and Chief of Staff for the Intermountain Region of the NPS until the end of November.
Since 2005, Risser served as the Superintendent of 210,000-acre Dinosaur National Monument. She made the highly controversial decision to close the old Quarry Visitor Center because of its structural instability. She then secured the funding and oversaw the construction of the new Quarry Visitor Center and rehabilitation of the Quarry Exhibit Hall, which protects the 100-foot long by 50-foot high wall of almost 1,500 dinosaur fossils. She reorganized the paleontology program, which has resulted in the park leveraging $200,000 into well over $1 million worth of paleontological research in the last five years. During her time at Dinosaur, she also supported research into conditions of Dinosaur's two rivers – the Green and Yampa, the only remaining large tributary in the Colorado River system that retains its free-flowing character.
Risser commented, "Natchez Trace will be a huge change for me. The parkway spans 444 miles through three states, 25 counties, and 20 communities. It also goes through seven ecological regions. Visitation in 2010 approached 14 million, which makes it the 8th most visited National Park Service unit. With almost 200 employees, it is in the top 25 NPS unit budgets. There are also associated units – Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail and Tupelo and Brices Cross Roads National Battlefields. The Park commemorates the most significant highway of the Old Southeast. The natural travel corridor that became the Natchez Trace dates back many centuries. It bisected the traditional homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations. As the United States expanded westward in the late 1700s and early 1800s, growing numbers of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path.
Risser began her public service career in 1979, by serving as the Assistant Field Representative for U.S. Senator Richard S. Schweiker in central Pennsylvania. In 1983, she began her National Park Service career in the office of Employee and Labor Relations in the National Capital Region in Washington D.C. A March ski vacation to Jackson Hole in 1984 convinced her to move west and she applied for the first job she saw at Grand Teton National Park. By July she had moved there and became the secretary for the Resources Management Division. From Grand Teton, Risser's career has taken her to a concession management position in Yosemite National Park, a management position at Big Bend National Park, Assistant Superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park, and Superintendent at Golden Spike National Historic Site before becoming Superintendent at Dinosaur National Monument.
Risser is currently on assignment as Acting Deputy Regional Director and Chief of Staff for the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service until the end of November. In her current role as Acting Deputy Regional Director, she has 44 National Park Service units in her portfolio and directly supervises 27 superintendents and state coordinators. She also serves as the Chief of Staff for the Intermountain Region.
"I've spent the last 30 years in the West, and roughly nine of those years at Dinosaur," reflected Risser. "Dinosaur National Monument is a magical place - truly one of the hidden gems of the National Park Service. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the park, its resources, and its history and the heritage of northwest Colorado and northeast Utah. I appreciate the tremendous support that we receive from the local community and I am proud to have worked with such a dedicated, professional staff. I want to thank everyone who has made my tenure at Dinosaur such a wonderful experience."
Did You Know?
Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, but lizards are still a common sight at Dinosaur National Monument. The small, inquisitive reptiles have endured on Earth for more than 300 million years, far outlasting their giant cousins.