Virginia State Parks is not known for resting on its laurels. Near the bottom of state support for our operations, we don't let a little thing like not enough money stand in our way or even a record level of vacant positions.
In this picture, two people instrumental in the development of State Parks in Virginia, Governor Trinkle and R. F. Burson (first Virginia State Parks Director) stand on land that is now First Landing State Park and, as current director Joe Elton puts it, they "Dream Big." At that point they did not have the first dollar or acre of land but they envisioned a state park system that would provide recreational opportunities to Virginians for years to come.
State Parks are part of the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the agency hired Allison Partners to study agency processes and to make recommendations for operational improvements. Our Division garnered only a few recommendations. As the study was concluding, and the Assistant Director decided to retire, State Parks Director Joe Elton decided to lead his own review of operations and have Allison Partners review the results. Several of us sat in on all of the sessions to assist with logistics and guide the discussion. In addition to Joe Elton, that included myself, Paula Hill (Special Assistant to the Director) and Sue Smith (Reservation Center Manager).
Four meetings were held with senior management throughout the system at Bear Creek Lake State Park. One meeting brought together the seven district managers who supervise the parks in geographic areas of the state. Two other meetings brought together State Park Managers. The fourth meeting brought together senior leaders from Parks central office.
The first Bright Destiny meeting
The result was the development of a new organizational structure. Instead of one Assistant Director, there would be three Managers reporting to the Parks Director. One will handle the field management, District Operations Manager; one will handle the internal functions, Central Administration Manager; and one will handle external functions, Visitor Services Manager. When the district system was developed seventeen years ago, the District Manager maintained some management responsibilities at the home parks. To make District Managers more effective, these parks will now get Assistant Managers, relieving the District Managers from day to day operational responsibilities. Instead of seven districts there are now six.
The new Virginia State Parks Organizational structure
The three senior managers have been announced. Craig Seaver, long time Manager of Natural Tunnel State Park will serve as District Operations Manager. The six District Manager will report to Craig. I think a description of his career to date in his own words is appropriate:
I first became interested in the natural resources field while working at a grain farm operation in the mid-1970's. At the encouragement of my parents, I applied for and was accepted as a Youth Conservation Corp member in the summer of 1978. I graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in 1984 with a BA in Biology and an A.A.S. in Natural Resource Management. Beginning in July of 1985, one month after marrying my wife Karen (who I met in Earth and Space Science class due to the fact she was not aware of the order of the planets), I interviewed with Virginia State Parks for a park ranger position at Fairy Stone State Park. In true government fashion, I was offered a park ranger position at Smith Mountain Lake State Park and I began the khaki and green journey in July of 1985.
Through my career I then moved 6 times. I was Chief Ranger at Mason Neck State Park, Assistant Superintendent at Douthat State Park, Superintendent A at Caledon Natural Area, Park Manager at Staunton River State Park and arrived at Natural Tunnel State Park in March of 1989. I know everyone always states this in their parting e-mails, but it is true….the state park family and experience has greatly affected my life. I have met many interesting individuals and made many friends (and a few enemies) along the way. I strongly believe that each of usaredirected into specific places and times throughout our lives byGod to make a positive difference to folks we meet along the way of this journey we call life.
Craig Seaver, District Operations Manager, surveys the
Natural Tunnel Wilderness Road Blockhouse
Chuck Wyatt, Finance and Enterprise Director, will become the Central Administration Manager. Finance and Enterprise Manager, Natural and Cultural Resources Manager, Maintenance Manager, Logistics and Training Manager, and Human Resources and Office Manager will report to Chuck. Chuck received his BS in Biology from Virginia Commonwealth University and began his career in 1972 at Maymont Park in Richmond, Virginia as a Nature Programs Specialist (park interpreter). He went on to head up a city-wide nature recreation outreach program and later served as a recreation center manager. While still employed by the Richmond Recreation and Parks Department, Chuck earned his Master of Regional and Urban Planning degree and then moved to DCR in 1983 as an Outdoor Recreation Planner. He moved over to the park management side of the department in 1986 as a State Parks Regional Manager, a position he held until 1995 when he became the division’s first State Parks Enterprise Manager.
Nancy Heltman, formerly Operations Director becomes the Visitor Services Manager. The Visitor Services Section consists of the Community Engagement and Volunteerism Manager, Visitor Experience Manager, Reservation Center Manager, Marketing Manager and the Support Coordinator. Nancy attended the College of William and Mary with a major in Government and ultimately a Master's Degree in Business Administration. She came to Virginia State Parks as the Reservation Center Manager in 1996 and was promoted to Operations Director in 2000. Nancy has also been leading our social media efforts since 2008.
Joe Elton (center) with Nancy Heltman, Visitor Services Manager (left),
and Chuck Wyatt, Central Administration Manager (right)
While our visitors will not notice any direct operational differences, this process has brought together staff in discussions about collaboration, our esprit de corps, and renewed reliance on our cross division working groups to develop, implement, enforce and modify best practices in our management. While there are three operational areas, all staff have to work together to strive for the level of excellence expected by our visitors.
It all comes down to working together to protect our natural resources and provide outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities to Virginia's and visitors to the state.