A trade-in of cactuses for pines Superintendent: Douglas K. Morris, who comes to the Blue Ridge from Arizona, is ready to take on the 'many challenges' of Shenandoah.

Sun Journal

November 20, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

LURAY, Va. -- More government workers would get out of bed faster if they had Douglas K. Morris' job.

Morris has trained rangers at the Grand Canyon, faced guns in Alaska, rescued climbers in Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks, and planned hiking trails in Point Reyes seashore.

After stops at almost a dozen parks during more than 30 years as a ranger, teacher and manager, Morris has recently become the new superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, succeeding J. W. "Bill" Wade, who retired after 10 years as director.

"The variety is exciting," Morris says. "New ideas, fresh perspectives, I endorse that. It's a fun career with chapters. I'm delighted to take on the many challenges of Shenandoah."

Morris comes to the Blue Ridge Mountains from Saguaro National Park, which lies in two sections 35 miles apart east and west of Tucson, Ariz. He had visited the 196,500-acre Virginia park in the past and sees similarities in running parks near cities.

"The biggest problem at Shenandoah is how our activities relate to neighboring counties and how we complement the needs of the community. We're interdependent. I'll be going a lot outside park boundaries to visit people.

"The park is a very important part of the region's economy," he says, referring to one study estimating that it brings $80 million a year in park salaries and in spending by local residents and 2 million visitors.

'Progressive leader'

His former chief ranger at Saguaro, Paula Nasiatka, recalls that "Doug was considered one of the most progressive leaders among his national park peers in the Southwest."

Nasiatka, now acting superintendent at Saguaro, says that Morris was instrumental in expanding the Arizona facility by 3,400 acres and organizing the volunteer group Friends of Saguaro. "He was really very well-liked in the community."

Morris spoke recently at the National Historic Register dedication of the Virginia park's Skyline Drive at the Skyland resort. He praised 21 old men who, with their families, stood in front of him. They were members of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) who built the drive's overlooks and other special features in the 1930s.

Spiffy in his olive and gray uniform, the pine tree-erect Morris, 56, with his salt-and-pepper mustache and sugar hair, vaguely resembles a Civil War general presiding over the troops after a long campaign.

Lengthy career

The former ranger's lengthy career has stretched from seashore to seashore, mountains to mountains, cactuses to pines.

Morris grew up in San Jose, Calif., graduating from San Jose State College as a zoology major. He was a seasonal ranger at Crater Lake (Oregon), Yosemite (California) and Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico).

His parks have included Cape Hatteras (North Carolina) and Cape Cod (Massachusetts). He was chief ranger at Kings Canyon and Sequoia (California) and acting superintendent at San Diego's Cabrillo National Monument.

"The most difficult situations were threats against my life in Alaska by anti-federal locals after the U.S. created monuments in 1979," Morris says. "The feeling in some cases is extreme in Alaska. Twice I had guns in my face. Once they burned a government plane nearby. The incidents were defused."

Two especially appealing jobs, he says, were being the first ranger -- thus a pioneering planner -- at Point Reyes in California and training other rangers -- "a very special responsibility" -- at the Horace Albright Training Center at the Grand Canyon.

The frequent moves were a mixed blessing for the three daughters, now 26, 28 and 30, of JoAnn and Doug Morris, who have four grandchildren.

"Moving?" said Morris. "It's a trade-off. Our daughters grew up in the beauty of the national parks, but they had to say goodbye to many school friends."

One daughter, Cindy, is a seasonal ranger at Capital Reef National Monument in Utah. Another daughter, Denise, works for the U.S. Forestry Service at Sequoia National Forest. Third daughter Beth is staying with with her parents in Luray.

Morris' twin, David, is superintendent of Olympic National Park in Washington.

'Exceptional' choice

Marie Rust, the Northeast Regional Park Service director, said Morris' "multifaceted" experience made him an "exceptional" choice to lead here.

"There are many opportunities for him to form new policies or channel his own slant on current situations. I know he'll protect our evergreen and other trees just as he has protected Saguaro cacti for the last few years."

All of the Shenandoah trails, roads and bridges closed by thousands of trees that were toppled by Tropical Storm Fran last year have been reopened. About 500 fell at Loft Mountain Campground in the South District.

Some problems at Shenandoah have proved more difficult.

One is the unsolved killings of two female campers June 1, 1996. Rangers discovered the women's bodies, with their throats slashed, in their tent in woods about a quarter-mile from Skyline Drive.

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