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Jon Jarvis: Absolutely American

Jon Jarvis started as a park ranger; after four decades he became the Director of the National Park Service. The 419 national parks—84 million acres—are an American treasure.

About this episode:

Jon Jarvis grew up in rural Virginia, in the magnificent Shenandoah Valley. With national forest land in his backyard he learned to love the outdoors, roaming, hunting, and fishing with his father and brother. Shortly after graduating with a degree in biology from the College of William and Mary, Jon began a four-decade career with the National Park Service that culminated in an eight-year tour of duty – from 2009 until 2017 – as its Director.

The great American author and Pulitzer Prize winner, Wallace Stegner, wrote that our “[n]ational parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best….” That is certainly true. But these parks are more than the best idea we ever had. They are spectacular sanctuaries, and they are beloved.

From Acadia to Zion, from Yellowstone to Yosemite; from Glacier to Grand Canyon, our national parks offer breathtaking natural landscapes and seascapes. In all, the National Park Service manages 419 national parks and historical sites that cover 84 million acres and draw 330 million annual visitors. Jon Jarvis knows these places as well as anyone.

Jon served in eight national parks, from his days as a ranger, through his turn as the superintendent of Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska – the largest park in our national system. Wrangells, by itself, covers 13 million acres – roughly the size of six Yellowstones. It is a place of pristine beauty and utter solitude.

What do park rangers do? Jon’s resume includes a delightful entry that answers that question: rangers do “ranger things.” Jon fought fires, trapped bears, forded glacial rivers, rappelled off cliffs, rescued lost people, gave tours, patrolled on skis and horses, climbed mountains, hiked, and watched sunsets. Ranger things.

From 2009 until 2017, Jon served as the Director of the National Park Service, in charge of its 22,000 employees and its 3-billion-dollar annual budget. He is a passionate advocate for our great national park system, and knows it is both a stunning resource for us to enjoy and a gift to preserve for those who come after us.

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Find the transcript here.

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