SCA Alum & Superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
MEDORA, N.D. — Valerie Naylor says she was not pursuing a career when she volunteered at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but she found one.
“It was life-changing,” she said of time she spent in the park with Student Conservation Association, a nonprofit aimed at creating the next generation of conservation leaders.
It worked. On Oct. 31, at age 56, Naylor will retire after serving 11½ years as the park’s superintendent and more than 30 years with the National Park Service.
It’s a career that has dealt with managing wildlife, sharing knowledge with park visitors and mitigating the effects of the oil boom.
Her work in the park started in the summer of 1979, when she was 21. It wasn’t her first experience in the Badlands.
Naylor grew up in Portland, Ore., but her fascination with the park began during a family trip to the North Dakota Badlands when she was 15.
At 18, she traded the city for the open spaces of eastern Oregon, where she pursued a biology degree at Eastern Oregon University.
She said the South Unit was her first choice when she signed up for the volunteer program.
“I’ve never been comfortable in forests and cities. I wanted to be out in prairie, deserts and mountains. That’s what I like — my habitat,” Naylor said.
Her early career took her to Colorado, California and Arizona. She served as the assistant chief of interpretation at Badlands National Park in South Dakota from 1987 to 1994, followed by stints as the chief of interpretation and visitor services at Big Bend National Park in Texas, and superintendent of Scotts Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska.
In 2003, she returned to her “favorite national park,” 70,447 acres in the North Dakota Badlands — the place that had planted a seed and led to a distinguished career.
“I feel very fortunate. I’ve worked in some wonderful parks — a whole series of dream jobs,” Naylor said. “I’ve had a great career. It’s gratifying to start and end in the same park, one of the finest in the National Park system.”