Last year, when Ethan McKinley got a phone call from his East Coast office informing him that he’d be the interim superintendent at Channel Islands National Park, the Colorado-born, career National Park Service employee was actually on a boat returning from a vacation to Santa Cruz Island.
“I was just elated,” said McKinley, who stepped in last July when Russell Galipeau retired after 15 years as superintendent. “We all jumped up and down.”
That happiness solidified on January 31, when, after a nationwide search, McKinley was appointed as the park’s permanent superintendent following his seven temporary months on the job. At just 37 years old, he’s one of the younger superintendents in the entire system. But with a strong background in leveraging private-sector partnerships to further the Park Service’s dual goals of resource conservation and public access, he’s a natural fit for the Channel Islands. The archipelago is an international hotbed for endangered species recovery efforts while relying on third-party concessionaires, consultants, and nonprofit organizations for almost every aspect of the park’s enhancement and enjoyment.
McKinley readily admits that he initially wondered whether he had enough experience for the job. “But the more I understood about the park,” he explained, “the more I realized that the management team is extremely strong, the park is positioned extremely well, and, with the strategic partnership experience I have, I think we can make a good difference in the coming years.”
Onward, Eagle Scout
McKinley’s career began near his home in Colorado. “I’m an Eagle Scout, so I spent a lot of time outside and in the mountains. But I had a business degree, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that,” he explained last week. “I approached the National Park Service just out of pure passion and love, and they put me to work with that business degree. I started out in strategic partnerships and working with the private sector on things like hotels, restaurants, and tour guides, trying to match what the parks needed with strong partners.”
In 2008, he moved to Philadelphia to tackle, among other things, a fading private-public concessionaire agreement in Shenandoah National Park. After many regional projects, McKinley took specific national park assignments at Glacier, Gettysburg, Mount Rainier — helping three climbing concessionaires to get along — and Yosemite, where he served as the acting chief of business and revenue management, working with that park’s extensive hotel and restaurant system. “That was really an eye-opening experience in my career and made me think of wanting to work toward being a superintendent,” said McKinley.
By Courtesy Photo