Saturday, January 28, 2023

New National Park Superintendent Wants to ‘Roll Out The Welcome Mat’

Kym Hall (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
Kym Hall (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

Kym Hall knew she wanted to work at Colonial National Historical Park from the first time she visited the area 10 years ago.

That dream was realized earlier this year, when she took over as superintendent upon the retirement of Dan Smith.

“This is one of the most important parks in the entire National Park Service,” Hall said. “This is where it started. This is where our country began. I couldn’t think of any two stories that are more important in our history [than that of Jamestown and Yorktown].”

Colonial National Historical Park includes Yorktown Battlefield, Historic Jamestowne and the Colonial Parkway, which connects the two sites.

Though Hall has had her sights set on the park for many years now, she never could have envisioned ending up there when she first began working for the National Park Service straight out of high school.

“I grew up in rural Washington state and went to a small high school. I remember thinking, ‘When I graduate, I’m going to be a secretary’ because all I knew was clerical work,” Hall said.

A teacher took an interest in Hall’s potential and directed her to a youth employment program. It was through that program she landed a job at Olympic National Park, where she would work for the next 14 years.

“For a long time it was just a job where I lived,” Hall said of her earliest years with the organization.

During that period of her career Hall focused on the legal and law enforcement aspects of working in a national park. Her interest in legal interpretation led to a promotion that saw her relocating to Washington D.C., where she would spend five years writing regulations for the National Park Service.

Those five years gave Hall the national experience necessary to continue moving up in the National Park Service and also increased her enthusiasm for the work she was doing.

“I became more and more compelled with what this organization has done,” Hall said.

Despite her growing passion for the mission of the Park Service, Hall found that her lack of interest in natural and social history was putting her at a disadvantage compared to her peers.

Her ambivalence about history as a subject changed when she visited the Historic Triangle for the first time.

“When I could stand where other people stood, touch what they touched –that’s when I began to like history,” Hall said.

It was during that trip she decided to keep an eye out for a superintendent opening at Colonial National Historical Park, and in the meantime she completed stints at many other parks throughout the country, including Glacier National Park in Montana and the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Hall spent the intervening years developing her leadership skills and trying to strengthen the relationship between the parks where she worked and the communities that surrounded them. Her emphasis on relationship-building made her a natural fit when the superintendent position at Colonial NHP eventually opened up.

“With a park of this magnitude and notoriety, you would normally have a variety of ‘friends’ groups and philanthropic partnerships,” Hall said. “But we don’t have a lot of groups like that here.”

Hall anticipates that much of the work ahead of her will relate to building up those community relationships in order to provide a more “seamless” tourist experience for visitors spending time in the Historic Triangle.

“With organizations like the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, we haven’t kept up with them in terms of updated exhibits and museums,” Hall said. “We need to improve the quality of what we provide so we can sit at the table with these partners who have already demonstrated what quality looks like.”

Additionally, Hall hopes to develop stronger ties to local governing bodies and businesses so they can make the Historic Triangle an overall more attractive destination.

The other side of building relationships is fundraising, to which Hall plans to take a multi-pronged approach.

While monetary donations are crucial to the preservation and success of the park, equally important and more overlooked is the need for advocates who can speak on behalf of the park when it comes to issues of funding and resource allocation.

“There are people around here who have loved this place forever,” Hall said. “Those are the people we want advocating for us and speaking about why what we are doing is important.”

Another area on which Hall hopes to focus is seeking out grants from nonprofits, state and federal organizations.

“We haven’t done a good job being ready with projects that donors might be interested in,” Hall said. “Ninety-five percent of our budget is fixed, so to do anything new we really need to be diligent about writing financial requests.”

Having funding for special projects is particularly important as the park is fast approaching two important milestones.

The year 2016 marks the National Park Service’s centennial. Across the country, the organization is embarking on a “Find Your Parks” campaign aimed at encouraging a new generation to get out and explore one of the more than 400 national parks.

“We need to make sure the next generation believes that parks matter, because they are our future visitors, supporters and advocates,” Hall said.

A large part of teaching a new group of people why national parks are important is making the park experience reflect the diversity of the U.S., Hall said.

“Sometimes in the past [Park Services] has backed off of telling the more difficult stories in our history because they’re afraid of not telling them right,” Hall said. “But they are a part of the lessons we’ve learned as a county.”

Hall believes that a big part of telling a story right is getting the right person to tell it. She believes that her role is not necessarily to be the storyteller but to act as “a conduit for the people whose story it really is.”

This issue is timely with 2019 on the horizon, which will mark 400 years since the first Africans were brought to Jamestown to serve as slaves. Though it has only just begun to make plans for that project, Hall anticipates making sure Colonial NHP handles it well will be one of the biggest challenges of her career.

“It’s a very important part of our history that we need to step up to,” she said.

It is that kind of challenge that continues to motivate and inspire Hall. The significance of what happened in the Historic Triangle hundreds of years ago, coupled with the necessity of continuing to educate the upcoming generation about that history, is what she loves about her new position.

“The best part of my job is improving the view of the Park Service by the American people,” she said. “I want to help other people connect to these stories the way I have. I think folks are just waiting for a welcome mat, and I’m rolling it out.”

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