Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service, had a childhood seemingly tailor-made for a career in public lands conservation. His family’s farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley backed up to the Washington National Forest, and as a boy the woods were his playground. He was an avid angler and hunter, and by the time he was 12 had climbed every mountain he could see from his house. “I grew up in the outdoors,” he says.
After earning a college degree in biology, Jarvis bummed around the West visiting as many of the national parks as he could. He returned back East “penniless,” and happened to land a seasonal job as an historical interpreter at the national park sites in the capital. He has worked for the Park Service ever since. His 38-year career has included stints as the superintendent of Craters of the Moon, North Cascades, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Mount Rainier. As the head of the park service, Jarvis oversees the management of 84 million acres of public land spread across more than 400 parks, monuments, and historic sites.
I recently spoke to Director Jarvis to ask him about his ideas of wilderness and his views on the challenges facing “America’s best idea”: global climate change, nature deficit disorder among younger people, and the distractions of information technology. “Wilderness taps into something very deep in the American psyche,” Jarvis told me. It’s a “way of saving something that makes Americans feel good about who we are, about us as a country.”
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