(Stone Mountain, Ga.) – Virginia State Parks Director Joe Elton was elected president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) at the NASPD annual meeting this week. His two-year term begins immediately and expires in September 2011.
“Joe Elton is widely respected for running one of the best systems in the country despite being one of the most frugally supported,” said NASPD Executive Director Dr. Phil McKnelly. “Many people would be satisfied to just hold their own when confronted with staff and funding shortages, but Joe has forged important relationships with private and non-profit groups and found ways to continually improve Virginia State Parks. His primary focus is on proper stewardship and enhancing the visitor experience for every park guest.”
Elton has served as the Virginia State Parks Director for 15 years. A board member of the NASPD for six years, he is the immediate past vice president.
California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman was elected Vice President and Massachusetts State Parks Director Priscilla Geigis was elected Secretary-Treasurer during the meeting.
The award-winning Virginia State Parks are operated by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“I’ve known and worked with Joe for many years, dating back to my time on the Virginia Board of Conservation and Recreation,” said DCR Director Joseph H. Maroon. “Joe’s election to this national office is a reflection of his dedication and service to Virginia’s outdoors and the nation’s environment. But just as none of us ever achieves anything alone, I know Joe is supported by a talented, devoted and hardworking staff, who are as proud of him as I am of the vote of confidence this election represents.”
In 2007 Elton received the NASPD Distinguished Service Award “in recognition of many years of dedicated service and inspired leadership to the conservation, interpretation and enhancement of our nation’s natural and cultural state park treasures.” A focus of Elton’s efforts in Virginia State Parks has been the personal experience of each of the more than 7.2 million annual visitors.
“I’ve not met the person who decided to go to a state park to have a bad time,” Elton said. “Because leisure time is so precious, we must make sure we meet or exceed visitor expectation. Our state and national parks are precious examples of America’s best natural, cultural and recreational treasures, and they’re special places that provide a therapeutic tonic for the mind, body and spirit.”
Elton’s goals as president include elevating the public’s awareness of the natural and economic value of ‘America’s State Parks.’ “In his new series, Ken Burns celebrates the centennial of the national park system and calls our national parks America’s Best Idea. That series will run this fall, and the previews have been fantastic,” Elton said.
“If national parks are America’s Best Idea, then state parks are not far behind. It’s our state and national parks that create the National System of Parks dreamt of by the founder of the Nation Park Service, Stephen Mather, and his contemporaries.
Elton cites the healthful impact of outdoor recreation and time spent in nature on an individual’s mind, body and spirit. He also promotes state parks as economic engines that stimulate local and state economies.
Elton is the sixth Virginia State Parks director since the position was created in 1936. In his 15 years of service, he has overseen the most dynamic period of growth and development in Virginia State Park history. During his tenure, DCR has opened six new parks, and five more are in the planning and development stage. He oversees 35 state parks with a total of 70,000 acres. The parks have more than 500 miles of trails, 1,800 campsites, 260 overnight cabins and lodges, 288 full-time positions and hundreds of seasonal positions.
The state park system is responsible for generating more than $170 million in annual economic impact statewide. In 2001 Virginia State Parks received the national gold medal award for “excellence in parks and recreation management.” Elton is a graduate of Ohio State University, the Commonwealth Management Institute, and the Virginia Executive Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. He lives in Powhatan, Va., with his wife, Patty. They have two adult sons, Alex and Lance.