Laura Joss grew up in western New York with limited exposure to national parks. But while at Indiana University, she worked as an intern at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, where she spent a semester living in a little cabin in a remote location with no car, TV, or phone – and loved it.
She landed her first paid National Park Service (NPS) job in 1989 at Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona/Utah. From there, Laura’s career has led her to criss-cross the country—from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Maryland to Arches National Park in Utah.
Those varied experiences have prepared Laura to serve in her new role as the General Superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, of which the Presidio sits at the center. Since starting as the top ranger last November, Laura’s been busy learning the complexities of the Golden Gate National Parks. In this excerpt from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy’s Park E-ventures interview, we learn more about her.
You’ve worked in many capacities at eight national parks across America. What do you enjoy most about being a ranger?
Working to ensure thriving, healthy places that are safe and welcoming to all. What I enjoy most is getting out into parks and experiencing the amazing splendor of these areas—and then sharing that with young people, especially in densely populated urban environments. I’m finding out there are young people [in this area] who’ve never seen the ocean...so I consider it my mission to get them out to our parks and teach them about these resources so that they’re excited about these lands. Once they have that direct connection to these fantastic places, we hope they’ll work with us to ensure these parks are preserved for the future.
What’s the secret to making that special connection between young people and our parks?
Instilling a sense of discovery and mystery…to find that special way that each of us discovers and makes an emotional connection to a place. And it’s different for everybody. That’s the tough thing to identify – whether it’s through visual means or scent or touch, everyone learns and experiences in different ways. The challenge then is: what can we do to make all of those opportunities available, so each person makes that connection and transforms their lives in a positive way?
You were most recently Regional Director of the Pacific West Region, which encompasses 63 park units, including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. What did you learn in that role?
It taught me about many of the successful programs and partnership models that the Pacific West Region has developed. The prime example of that is Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and Presidio Trust. Those partnerships are seen as national models for the Park Service. When I was appointed to this position, I was so honored to be able to work directly with the Conservancy and the Trust, and continue the innovative programs that this park is so well-known for.
What, in particular, has impressed you about the partnerships here in the Golden Gate National Parks?
The partners at Golden Gate – the Parks Conservancy, Presidio Trust, and 50 other partners – are extremely active and vital, and they have a very deep connection to the community.
These very dynamic and collaborative partners have a unique ability to take the pulse of park needs – and the willingness to work with and share successes with the Park Service. I can’t say enough about how much the Conservancy and Presidio Trust contribute to our success at Golden Gate.
And Golden Gate employees are highly creative and innovative; the park is known to have incubated pioneering ideas that are often picked up as National Park Service models nationwide – such as our approach to accessibility in the national parks.
What are some of the unique challenges facing the Golden Gate National Parks?
The three parks here – Fort Point National Historic Site, Muir Woods National Monument, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area—make up such a vast and complex landscape, with numerous natural and historic resources. The challenge is educating the public about them so that they appreciate the gift of these wonderful places, learn about them, and take care of them so that these treasures are preserved for future generations. Another challenge is, in such a high cost of living area, recruiting and retaining a diverse and thriving workforce that reflects our nation.
How can this park better serve the diverse communities of the Bay Area?
I really think the programs that the Parks Conservancy, National Park Service, and Presidio Trust have developed are very successful at reaching diverse communities and making national parks relevant. For example, the new Presidio Visitor Center – which is jointly run by the three organizations – is a wonderful model of collaboration and provides unique opportunities for visitors to get connected to park resources. I was impressed with the hands-on exhibits and activities – and the thought that went into educating the public about our history at the site.
And I’d like to make the park more family-friendly. I know how daunting the logistics can be for families to prepare to visit a place like this, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure these parks are as welcoming as possible.
Written by Michael Hsu, Director of Editorial Content & Strategy, Golden Gate Parks Conservancy
Photos by Paul Myers of the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy
Read the full interview with Laura Joss on the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy site here >>