Darla Sidles has been named superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, according to Sue E. Masica, Intermountain Region director for the National Park Service (NPS). Sidles, superintendent of Saguaro National Park in Arizona since 2009, will begin her new assignment on Aug. 7.
In announcing the appointment, Masica noted Sidles' success in engaging diverse communities and building a strong local volunteer program at Saguaro. Scenically and biologically rich, the Arizona park's two separate geographic districts are east-west bookends to Tucson, the state's second-largest city.
"We are fortunate that Darla brings her skill in community outreach to the third-most-visited national park in America, just as the Park Service marks its centennial this summer," Masica said. "Darla's proven ability to work closely with park staff, partner groups, a diverse community and a new generation of park advocates is a critical attribute as Rocky Mountain National Park enters its own second century." The Colorado park marked its 100th anniversary in 2015.
"I am very excited and honored. As a child, Rocky Mountain National Park was the only national park I ever visited with my family," said Sidles, a 26-year NPS employee. "It had a profound impact on me then, and I am certain that park visitors today share the sense of awe. I look forward to working with the park staff and our partners to engage new stewards who will help care for Rocky for generations to come."
Under her leadership, Saguaro National Park set new high marks for attendance, drawing a record 752,000 visitors in 2015. The park also completely refurbished its Rincon Mountain Visitor Center and landed key Resilient Landscapes grants for the park and neighboring lands. Those funds have helped ramp up extensive mapping, science-based treatments and removal of buffelgrass, an invasive non-native plant that threatens the area's delicate Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Sidles also oversaw the national 2011 BioBlitz in the park, a two-day, around-the-clock NPS event in which science professionals and volunteer "citizen scientists" combed Saguaro to record every plant, animal and insect species.
At Saguaro she also has led advocacy for greater staff and visitor diversity and worked closely with Tucson in the NPS Urban Agenda initiative, which focuses on parks' role in helping solve problems in neighboring urban communities. She has worked with local government and business leaders to protect park values where new development approaches Saguaro's boundaries. Sidles served four years on Tucson's January 8 Memorial Foundation board, created to establish a memorial to victims and families of the Jan. 8, 2011 mass shooting. She also served six years on the NPS Natural Resource Advisory Group, and continues to serve on the NPS Revisiting Leopold Implementation Team, who is developing Director's Order #100 to address resource stewardship in the 21st century.
Sidles will take over leadership at Rocky Mountain from Acting Superintendent Ben Bobowski, the park's Chief of Resource Stewardship. Bobowski has overseen park operations since October 2015, when longtime Superintendent Vaughn Baker retired after 42 years with the NPS. Both Rocky Mountain and Saguaro are in the NPS's Intermountain Region, with 84 national parks and monuments across eight states (MT, WY, UT, CO, AZ, NM, OK and TX).
Before moving to Saguaro, Sidles was deputy superintendent of Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia (2006-09). She previously served at Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument in Arizona as superintendent (2003-06) and assistant monument manager (2001-03). She also served several months in Washington, DC as associate to the NPS director.
Sidles began her career as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) volunteer in 1986 with the U.S. Forest Service in Washington state. She worked there in the North Cascades area seasonally until 1990 as a wilderness ranger and trail crew member. In addition to a second SCA stint as an interpretive ranger at Arches, Sidles worked seasonally a dispatcher at Denali National Park in Alaska, trail crew member at Big Bend National Park in Texas and biological technician at Zion National Park in Utah. In 1994 she became a permanent employee at Zion, serving seven years in positions including vegetation, wilderness management and planning posts.
Rocky Mountain National Park is among the most iconic of the NPS's more than 400 parks, monuments and other sites. Exceptional visitor opportunities for solitude, mountain scenery and wilderness recreation include a vast trail network, abundant wildlife and Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the U.S.
Fragile, high-elevation terrain encompasses one-third of the park, making it one of the largest protected examples of the alpine tundra ecosystem outside of Alaska. The park is a UNESCO international biosphere reserve and an Audubon globally important bird area. Parts of Rocky's ecosystems are managed as natural areas for scientific research and education. Visitors also can see remnants of the ways humans have used the park's landscape over thousands of years, from prehistoric game hunts to dude ranching and recreational tourism.