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State Parks Director Craig Whipple Stepping Down After 14 Years

Man sitting outside under a tree
courtesy Craig Whipple
Craig Whipple is stepping down after 14 years as director of the Vermont State Parks system.

Craig Whipple is retiring after 14 years as the director of Vermont State Parks, and 40 years working in the state parks system. He spoke with VPR's Mitch Wertlieb about his career.Their interview is below. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: Why are you deciding to retire now at the end of August?

Craig Whipple: You know, Mitch, everybody has to go sometime. And every organization needs some transition. This is the kind of work that people, once they they discover how wonderful and rewarding the work is, stick around for a long time for. And that's a good thing, of course. But also, you need to freshen the organization up. There needs to be transition, and for some some people that are at the upper levels of these kinds of organizations, I think it's just helpful for keeping the organization strong and fresh, healthy, to just simply transition.

Well, as you think about retiring and getting closer to that that moment, I'm imagining that you're also thinking about your origins. How did you get your start in the parks system?

When I was right out of college, I took a job as a director of a county parks system in rural central Michigan. I did that for a few years. And then I came to Vermont because I had never been here before. And instantly fell in love with it. Within a few years, I worked my way into a position with the state parks system. I started as regional manager. I've done several other jobs within the organization.

As I tell my younger colleagues, it's not the work that has to be interesting. It's why we do the work. It's the value of the work. And it's so rewarding to see and hear about the value that these outdoor recreation experiences have for people, the memories that they may create as families that lasts them a long time.

It's a big parks system in a small state and everybody knows each other. We hire about 400 people every summer to operate the parks. So there are a lot of people in Vermont who have either worked for us or know people who have worked for us or have kids in the workforce. So there's lots of connection and it's really, really rewarding to witness the value that the service has for people.

More from VPR: Vermont State Parks Open A Month Late, With Pandemic, Safety In Mind

I like how you say the Vermont State Parks system is a big system in a small state. How have you seen the parks system expand in the years since you've been director? Have you seen it grow around the state?

The system has expanded. We've fortunately added three parks within the last few years. So it has grown in that respect and it's grown in the kinds of programs that we offer in the park. Interpretive programs have grown. It's a matter of keeping a traditional set of services and experiences available, but doing it in a modern way.

I imagine, too, that one of the charges that you had was to increase visitation. Have you seen numbers of visitors go up, down or stay essentially steady during your tenure as director?

There's been about a 40% increase in visitation in the last 10 years. It's attributable to a number of factors. I think it's not uncommon across the country.

I think there has been a resurgence in the value of and appreciation for outdoor recreation all across the country. And there are studies there, science that supports the conclusion that the more time we spend outside, the healthier we are emotionally and physically - particularly for kids. It has all kinds of effects on self-esteem and learning capability and attention span. And I think those messages are being sent and well-received. It's really resonating right now.

More from VPR: A Moonlit Walk On The Burton Island Farm Trail

What do you think will be the impact from this global pandemic on state park visitation going forward?

In the short term, it's a challenge to manage that in a safe way for the safety of the staff and safety of the visitors, certainly. I think going forward, I would believe that this powerful interest in the value of being outdoors will continue. And as for the pandemic, as we get to the other side of it, whenever and however that happens, we're predicting that the interest in the out-of-doors will remain high. I think these visitation trends have been going up anyway. I think we're headed on an upward trajectory for visitation in the long term.

You know, this might be a little like asking an author what their favorite book is... but do you have a favorite Vermont state park?

I can't!

You're retiring, Craig. I'm giving you a chance here!

I think we're really lucky to have places like Green River Reservoir in Hyde Park. It's a pretty special place. Places like Burton Island out in Lake Champlain. Those are a couple of a couple of my favorites. I'll leave it at that.

More from Brave Little State: What's It Like To Hike The Long Trail?

And what about your plans going into retirement? Do you have any idea what you're going to do next?

I have home improvement projects and property improvement projects that I really need to get out from under. So I figure that up to a year's time will be spent doing that. I'm too passionate about what we do to remain out of the game completely. So I'll be back in the game probably in some capacity or another after a few months of getting tired of working around here.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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