A new superintendent is taking the reins at Shenandoah National Park.
One of his first goals is reaching out to surrounding cities and counties who benefit from more than a million visitors each year. But visitation numbers are down, and so is funding.
The new top administrator is Jim Northup, who comes from Rocks National Lakeshore, on the northern edge of Michigan. But he's no stranger to the Shenandoah. Northup served there more than 30 years ago as a seasonal interpreter and back-country ranger.
On the ridges of Shenandoah National Park, the snow lingers well into spring and helps paint the stunning vistas that bring visitors from all over the world. But many of them come from just a few miles away, so Shenandoah's new superintendent will reach out to the "gateway" communities.
"The more we work outside the park boundary, the more people understand the mission of the park service, and what makes these places so very, very special," Northup said.
Protecting the park's resources and making them accessible to visitors keeps getting tougher. Mandatory federal budget cuts from sequestration mean fewer programs, and reduced operating schedules at campgrounds and lodges.
"There is a domino effect, in that if the park is not as open as it has been in the past, then obviously not as many people come, which means they're not spending as much money at the concession facilities at the park, and they're not spending as much money in those gateway communities," Northup.
Even so, neighboring cities and counties benefit from an estimated $74 million in annual economic benefit from the park's visitors.
Northup's challenge is to boost those numbers despite budget cuts and fewer people through the gates.
"Shenandoah's visitation has declined from what it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. That's one of the reasons I think we need to be working outside the park boundaries, just to remind people that this is still a very special place that offers a really authentic experience," Northup said.
Northup's mission has to go beyond budgets and visitation. Northup says part of being a steward of that national treasure is working to control invasive species, and protect air and water quality.