To witness our new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in her element, it helps to find her outdoors, whether she’s hiking a trail, paddling a kayak, or climbing a mountain. I know because I’ve gotten to share a number of excursions with her over the eight years she has served on NPCA’s board of trustees, and it’s given me insight into her character.
Last year, for example, Sally was part of a small team of national park enthusiasts on an arduous climb up Mount Rainier. Four of us were climbing up the glaciers, persevering through snow, hail, rain, and fog as we negotiated many crevasses and steep snow ramps, all on a day with high winds and terrible visibility. Sally was focused, observant, exceedingly competent, and willing to make adjustments to our course as the weather (and finally lightning) managed to turn even worse. A good leader knows how to push limits while also listening to people and the surrounding environment to manage the risks and rewards of our decisions. I could not be more impressed with her skill and good judgment that day on the mountain.
For a great leader, however, it’s not always about getting to the top.
On a very different hike last October, a group of NPCA volunteers and staff members spent the afternoon with Sally at Acadia National Park. We started making our way along a trail with a significant drop-off on one side. Normally, the trail would not have been terribly difficult, but on this day, a recent rain had left the path slippery, and a member of our group understandably got nervous. Sally was the first to notice this person’s hesitation, and she immediately offered her arm, walking the hiker back down to a more comfortable spot on the trail. To me, this spoke volumes about Sally’s personality—it showed her sensitivity, her quickness to act, and her dedication to helping others, even if it means changing her own plans to take the most responsible action. It’s no wonder she has made such a successful career out of connecting people with nature—she gets nature and she gets people.
Now that the Senate has officially confirmed Sally as our nation’s next interior secretary, I can say without reservation that she is an ideal choice to oversee the National Park Service as it prepares for its centennial in 2016. Sally has the background and the vision to support America’s most beloved public lands as they enter their next century. As the head of one of our country’s major outdoor retailers, Sally also understands that investing in our national parks means supporting a whole economy of recreational opportunities that improves our health, connects us with nature, strengthens our families, and provides millions of jobs around the country.
Although the bulk of her career has been in the private sector, Sally has spent a great deal of time specifically addressing the needs of national parks—the issue closest to my heart. In addition to her years on NPCA’s board, she has served as a member of the National Parks Second Century Commission convened by NPCA in 2008, where she led efforts to better connect people to parks, reach diverse communities, and build a broad-based network of park and outdoor recreation advocates. She has been a strong supporter of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, and she has worked with former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on the Bush Administration’s effort to enhance both public and private funding for our national parks.
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When President Obama officially announced Sally’s nomination for the cabinet position, she joked with outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, “I’m going to do my best to fill those big boots of yours, but I think I might get lost in your hat.” It’s true; she has a great legacy to continue, and some sizeable footwear to fill. But I know she will work hard to ensure our public lands are preserved, protected, and more accessible for future generations to enjoy—and that’s something we all can celebrate.
About the author
Tom Kiernan Former president of NPCA