Happy Birthday, National Park Service!
Celebrating the National Park Services’ 100th anniversary with a career Q&A from three of the federal agency’s top female park rangers.
Robin Snyder: Superintendent, Appomattox Court House National Historic Park
While most employees must move around to move up within the NPS, Robin Snyder’s career path took a somewhat different turn and wound up leading her to places near and dear. The 43-year-old Appomattox native’s job brought her home again in 2015 when she took over the top position at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia – the site of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865.
On the way to her current superintendent position, Snyder, who has a master’s degree in teaching and an undergraduate degree in history, has done everything from cataloging dead ducks to overseeing the visitor’s centers at The New River Gorge National River…even emceeing the pinnacle event of Appomattox’s recent Sesquicentennial.
What made you want to work with the NPS?
I always thought I‘d go to law school. Then I took a temporary job with the park service and just fell in love with it. It took me on a detour from what I thought I would do. I became really interested in using my teaching degree and working within NPS. I started this all those years ago because I love to teach and love being outdoors.
What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in the NPS?
The first is the same piece of advice to young women and to young men. It is: Work hard and share your opinions and ideas freely and honestly. Specifically to women, I would say that there is not one single job in the park service that you cannot do. I was just at a new superintendent meeting and close to one-third of the class was female. I decided to do wildfire firefighting [a few years ago] and you didn’t see too many other female rangers doing it. I went out west and fought fires. It’s something I did and love to do, and I was perfectly capable of keeping up.
What’s the best piece of career advice you have been given?
I never will forget it. I was just out of college and I had gotten permanent status on Assateague Island. There was a district ranger, a crusty old man, who was about to retire. I was entry level at the time but he said to me, “One day you might be in a position where you are supervising others. When you do, go into that position and observe. Remember to watch, look, listen and learn.” I kept his words in the back of my mind this past year. I give that same advice to others. You always have to value the work of the people who came before you.
What is your birthday wish for the NPS?
I’m going to take my staff on the 25th and have a big cookout with them where I will thank them for all of their work. My wish is that we all pause and focus internally on those who do the job every day, those who continue to love and believe in the mission of this work.
Beth Kanter‘s books and articles help visitors and locals experience the tastes, sights and unique feel of the nation’s capital. The Washington, DC Chef’s Table is Beth’s third book about her favorite city. Beth’s essays and articles have appeared in a variety of national newspapers, magazines and online. When not writing about her hometown, Beth teaches writing workshops. Follow her on Instagram @beekaekae and Twitter @foodloversdc.