From the window of his new office at the Shenandoah National Park Headquarters in Luray, Superintendent Pat Kenney looks out on the parade of red and yellow foliage that brings visitors to Virginia every autumn.
Kenney arrived in Shenandoah at the beginning of October from Yellowstone National Park, where he served as the Deputy Superintendent for the past four years.
“I’m used to looking out my window and seeing elk or bison at different times of the year. But I’ve seen some bears and white tail deer out there,” Kenney said, pointing to the window.
For more than 30 years, Kenney has worked for the National Park Service in various capacities. Before his stint at the oldest national park in the country, Kenney was the superintendent of Cape Lookout National Seashore, a 56-mile stretch of North Carolina coastline in the southern Outer Banks. He has also served as a natural resources manager at Big Cypress National Reserve in the everglades of South Florida and worked as the NPS Planning Branch Chief at the Denver Service Center.
“Yellowstone is a hard place to leave, but it was time,” Kenney said.
Over the past week, the new superintendent has been working to familiarize himself with the contours of Shenandoah: its many employees, unique cultural resources, popular overlooks and hikes, and its diverse gateway communities.
“I think the interesting thing about Shenandoah is that it has a Western park feel,” Kenney said. “And I think part of the goal with it was to bring those early Western National Park concepts to the East.”
But one of the unique challenges in Shenandoah, Kenney said, is easing crowds and finding alternatives to some of the most congested areas, like Old Rag and White Oak Canyon.
“You come to a [National Park] to recreate and — what did FDR say, re-create?” Kenney said. “So how do we manage that differently? Are we doing enough already or do we need to do more? And there’s the resource preservation piece too.”
With his background in natural resource management, Kenney said that his focus will be on balancing the interests of visitors with the interest of nearby communities and ecosystems.
“I think sometimes people from the West think there’s no wild country in the east, but there’s wild country in the east … And you know, my guess is even on our busiest Saturday, if I don’t pick an Old Rag or a White Oak Canyon I bet I could pick a trail in this park where I’m not going to see a lot of people,” he said.
“I look forward to working on efforts to preserve the park’s natural and cultural resources and enhance the visitor experience,” Kenney said.