Press Release Oct 21, 2023

Rocky Mountain National Park Leader Celebrated with National Conservation Award

Stephen T. Mather Award presented to former Rocky Mountain National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles. 

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is proud to announce this year’s recipient of the esteemed Stephen T. Mather Award is former Rocky Mountain National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles. The award recognizes Sidles for over three decades of dedicated service and her outstanding contributions to the national parks.

The Stephen T. Mather Award, first presented in 1984, is named after the first director of the National Park Service (NPS) and is given to individuals in the National Park Service who have shown steadfast leadership and persistent dedication to our national parks.

Throughout her remarkable career, Sidles served as a leader in several national parks, including Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arches National Park, Big Bend National Park, Zion National Park, Saguaro National Park, Independence National Historical Park, and Denali National Park. She also served several months in Washington, DC as associate to the NPS director.

In 2016, she made history by becoming the first woman to serve as superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park, consistently one of the nation’s most visited parks.

“I am so honored and humbled to receive this award from NPCA,” said Darla Sidles, former Superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park. “Celebrating the strength, expertise, and teamwork of my NPS colleagues while proactively addressing the challenges and ways to improve our park systems were major focuses throughout my career.”

Under her leadership at Saguaro National Park, Sidles established the Next Generation Ranger Program in partnership with the Friends of Saguaro. This program employs local young people, with an emphasis on recruiting a regionally diverse group, including Latinx and Indigenous students, providing them with pathways, training, and connection throughout the park landscape and beyond. This model was later extended to create Rocky Mountain National Park’s successful and growing Diversity Internship Cohort Program, in partnership with Rocky Mountain Conservancy, soon entering its third season.

“Improving NPS diversity, engaging new park stewards, and proactively addressing visitor use management have long been key priorities for me, and I am so grateful to the dedicated staff, treasured friend groups like Friends of Saguaro and Rocky Mountain Conservancy, volunteers, and partners that do the hard work to help parks be successful,” Sidles continued. “I greatly appreciate NPCA’s attention to these issues and our collective accomplishments.”

Sidles’ dedication to innovative park protection is also evident in her numerous resource management initiatives. In 2020, as a noteworthy example of this commitment, Sidles and her team at Rocky Mountain National Park responded to years of rising visitation numbers despite a decade-long flat budget by launching the nation’s first-ever pilot timed-entry permit system.

This bold move was a critical endeavor done with deep deliberation, care, and bravery, demonstrating Sidles’ longtime dedication to transparent and community-engaged decision-making. The park’s adaptive and highly strategic visitor use management planning process continues today into long-term planning, providing a safer and more reliable park experience for all while also protecting the fragile cultural and natural resources so critical to the landscape.

Sidles has also been a champion for park planning in the face of catastrophic climate change. In 2020, Rocky Mountain National Park faced its most devastating wildfires in known history with the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires. Sidles navigated the crisis with determination, working for resource allocation to keep staff safe and supported as they addressed the overwhelming impact on nearly 30,000 acres of the park.

“Darla is the transformative force that our national parks need for a bright future. The programs that thrived under Darla’s guidance took courage, and they are a testament to how the Park Service can radiate relevance and inspiration for the next generation,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The parks she has overseen have started the important process of becoming more inclusive and welcoming spaces. They have provided invaluable professional opportunities for local youth, all while effectively managing the increasing demands on park resources. We can turn to Darla’s achievements for guidance and creativity when we envision the future of park management. It is an honor to recognize Darla’s exemplary park leadership with the Stephen T. Mather Award.”

Darla Sidles retired from the National Park Service in June 2023, leaving an indelible mark on the national parks and a legacy of innovation, inclusivity, and dedicated park stewardship.

The Stephen T. Mather Award, endowed by Booz Allen Hamilton, was presented at this year’s 46th annual Ranger Rendezvous in Jacksonville, Florida. The Ranger Rendezvous is held by the Association of National Park Rangers.


About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit