Dream job for new Olympic National Park superintendent

Dream job for new Olympic National Park superintendent
Sarah Creachbaum has taken up her post as superintendent of Olympic National Park. (Photo by Keith Thorpe, Peninsula Daily News)
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, Wash. — Most every employee of the National Park Service has an ideal park at which he or she would like to work, and the expansive wilderness in Port Angeles' backyard is at the top of Sarah Creachbaum's list.

“It's Olympic National Park — do you need to say more?” Creachbaum said with a laugh from her superintendent's office at park headquarters in Port Angeles.

Creachbaum, 54, began work last week as Olympic National Park's newest superintendent and is settling into a rental home in Port Angeles with her husband, Bob Rossman, a retired Park Service planner and hydrologist, and their border collie, Jimmy.

Creachbaum, who most recently served as superintendent of Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui, Hawaii, said she was drawn to apply for the position at Olympic National Park because of the immense natural beauty the Olympic Peninsula has to offer.

“The mountain-sea intersection is something I've always loved,” Creachbaum said.

“The rain forests are also incredibly rich and diverse.”

Creachbaum will be Olympic National Park's 15th superintendent and is taking over from Karen Gustin, who was named to the post in 2008.

Gustin retired in March of this year after 30 years in the National Park Service.

Creachbaum is the third woman named as superintendent of Olympic National Park after Gustin and Maureen E. Finnerty, named 22 years ago as the park's first woman superintendent.

“That's a nice group of women to follow,” Creachbaum said.

As she settles into her job, Creachbaum said she has been working intensely with Deputy Superintendent Todd Suess, who was acting superintendent while a replacement for Gustin was found.

“We're very excited to have her here,” Suess said in a Friday interview.

“We're looking forward to getting back to full strength.”

Suess said one of the first things Creachbaum will have on her plate is helping to manage the development of the park's wilderness stewardship plan, public comment on which is expected to start next year.

Creachbaum said park staff have been planning for public comment on the plan since before she arrived, and she said she is looking forward to lending any support she can.

The wilderness stewardship plan, required of all national parks, lays out how a given park should best manage land designated as wilderness within the park boundaries and explains what uses — be it hiking, camping or backcountry skiing — work best for each wilderness area, Creachbaum explained.

“It's not every use on every acre; it's the best use of that acre,” Creachbaum said.

Roughly 1,300 square miles, or 95 percent of the 922,000-acre park, is designated wilderness, which is defined as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” according to the Wilderness Act passed by Congress in 1964.

Creachbaum, who will oversee 100 park staff year-round and 300 total during the busier summer, said her primary role in the development of the stewardship plan in the near term will be working with the diverse communities of the North Olympic Peninsula to gain input on how the plan should move forward.

“Parks are tough places to manage, and I truly think you have to have very interested, smart people at the table to help you solve the complex problems,” Creachbaum said.

While at the 34,366-acre Haleakala National Park, Creachbaum said, one of the most enjoyable parts of her job was working with the local community, especially native Hawaiians — efforts she said she would love to replicate with the North Olympic Peninsula's native tribes.

“Understanding their relationship with the landscape, particularly their traditional ecological knowledge, [was] really exciting stuff,” she said.

Matt Brown, the acting superintendent at Haleakala, said in a Friday interview that he was personally unhappy to see Creachbaum go but is thrilled for the staff of Olympic National Park.

“She is just a fantastic leader,” Brown said.

He said he especially admired the way Creachbaum connected with the community around the park.

Brown, hired by Creachbaum in 2009 as Haleakala's resource management chief, said he always appreciated the time Creachbaum took to work with all levels of staff to make sure each employee wanted to come back every day.

Creachbaum has had nearly every job possible in her 29-year National Park Service career, and Brown said this shows in her management style and willingness to do her share of hard work.

“It's not just attending a meeting with some legislators, but getting muddy in a taro patch with some of the cultural resources staff,” Brown said.

“She's not afraid to get dirt under her fingernails.”

In addition to her work ethic, Brown said he also admired Creachbaum's mind for policy and her ability to connect a park's programs with the individuals who will be making them a reality.

“She understands how some of those polices are formulated, but it is also realistic about implementing those polices on the ground,” Brown said.

Creachbaum said she started in the Park Service in 1983 working to clear brush and build trails in Arizona's Saguaro National Park after graduating from high school in Ohio and hopping a Greyhound bus to Arizona seeking adventure.

Raised on a farm in Ohio, Creachbaum said she always had a love for tending the outdoors that eventually drew her to work for the National Parks Service.

“Taking care of landscapes is just ingrained as a farm kid,” Creachbaum said.

“You just want to take care of things.”

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