Alumna takes the reins at Maryland Parks
After 15 years working in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Angela Crenshaw ’04 was named acting superintendent of the Maryland Park Service in April, and her appointment was made permanent earlier this week.
Before her appointment as superintendent, Crenshaw was managing Rocks, Susquehanna and Palmer state parks, and she has managed or worked in Gunpowder Falls, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, and Elk Neck state parks previously. She now oversees nearly 80 parks, 250 full-time employees and another 600 seasonal workers.
What led you to study environmental science at Washington College and go into an environmental career?
Growing up in northern Baltimore County, Gunpowder Falls State Park was really important—hiking and swimming and fishing and tubing, running around in nature playing with salamanders. I taught sailing for a while. And I was a stable hand for a little while. I was always out in the woods. It just seemed like a fun, natural progression.
You graduated from Washington College planning to become an environmental lawyer, even getting a Master of Energy and Environmental Policy degree and working on air pollution rules for a couple years afterwards. Why did you shift your focus into working in the parks?
Once I got my master’s, I decided I wanted to work a little bit before taking the LSAT, and I just never stopped working. I got a job in air quality and spent about two and a half years working towards the Clean Air Act state implementation plans for particulate matter 2.5 and regional haze.
The reason I wanted to change is because the state implementation plans I was working on [in 2006 to 2008] wouldn't go into effect until 2023 to 2025. Whereas if I'm in a park and I do a nature program, I see change immediately. I wanted that immediate change and a little bit more of a connection to the landscape and the people.
You can be multiple different types of rangers. You can be an interpretation ranger, just sharing history in the park. You can be a green ranger, you know, photovoltaics, electric vehicles. You can be a maintenance ranger. And it can be a combination of all of them. So that's what I really love about the job. It's just not one path.
When you were named acting superintendent of the park service, you became the first African American to lead the parks. What does that historic element of your appointment mean to you and how does it affect your work?
Before I got this position, I was the lead ranger on the Interpreting Difficult Histories Team, and part of that was digging a little bit more into the history of African Americans in our public lands, especially in Maryland.
Sandy Point—one of our most popular parks, it's right at the base of the Bay Bridge—was built to be segregated. There's an image of the superintendent not only drawing the color line, but maintaining it. Knowing that that picture exists and knowing that that's part of the history, it's very moving for me, but it also is a lot of pressure. I want to do a good job, not just because I'm the first anything—I just want to do a good job—but knowing about that history really guides me and pushes me to make sure that everyone feels comfortable in Maryland state parks.
This year, I got permission for us to celebrate Pride, and that was a big deal for a lot of people. Our public lands are for all of us. They’re for everybody, and I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable because of something that was done by the park service.
A number of our parks used to be plantations. They're a part of the Civil War. They have Native American history, and we want to make sure we share that history properly. And interpret it fully. We don't want to hide it. You gotta go through it, not around it.
As acting superintendent, you were appointed for an initial term of April to October, to help the park service through its busy season. You’ve talked about how inclusion was a focus for you. What else were you working towards during that time?
I'm looking towards the front, moving the Park service forward, and that has been my goal.
There are a number of other people that I was able to elevate into other acting positions and management so that we could continue moving the Park service forward.
We needed a shift. It was time. I wanted to elevate people who I knew would do an amazing job in these acting roles. People I knew who would assist me in leading the Park service forward. This is a tough job, and I know I can do it because there are smiling, happy, enthusiastic, talented rangers behind me.
We’ve been working on the implementation of the Great Maryland Outdoors Act, and that included more funding for maintenance projects, positions, and a few other requirements. We have to make sure that we fulfill those in good faith, which will again move the park service forward.
You have been visiting the parks personally, rotating among the state’s regions two weeks at a time, in addition to your work in Annapolis. How has that helped you in your new role? How has that continuing connection to day-to-day ranger work in the field affected your work supervising the park system?
We have enough meetings where I can meet people, but it's nice to meet them in their park instead of just a meeting space. See what they're working on. See what they need from me on the policy side, on the bureaucratic side.
Staying connected in person helps with being the acting superintendent because folks, the boots on the ground, know that I've closed the park because it was filled to capacity. They know I've cleaned the bathroom, and I've broken equipment and helped repair that equipment. They know I've responded to incidents and filled out the paperwork. I've managed what is basically a museum at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and a busy swimming beach at Gunpowder Falls State Park. Being able to say that you've done those things and having people know that you've done those things is really helpful when leading.
You majored in environmental science and economics, plus a minor in biology, so your academic work clearly relates to the career you have built. What else did you learn at the College that prepared you for what you’re doing now?
Learning how to manage a budget at Washington College was nice through the different committees and the different teams I was working on, and just managing things multitrack! A lot of the projects that I'm working on, it's April to October, so I can't start one and then end it and start another. I have to have things moving all at the same time. A lot of that came about in college with a dual major with a minor. It's a lot of class. It's a lot of lab. Also, I had a job. You have to be able to juggle your time and allocate your time properly and take a moment for yourself too.