In her more than thirty year career, Maureen Finnerty was a ground-breaking and widely respected leader whom the National Park Service (NPS) relied upon for advice and counsel on numerous critical issues and functions. A woman consistently ahead of her time, she was the first woman to serve in several NPS positions including the Washington Office division of ranger activities; associate regional director for park operations, Mid-Atlantic Region; superintendent of Olympic and Everglades national parks, and as associate director, park operations and education.
Maureen’s focused leadership was underpinned with communication, cooperation, and collaboration. In the early 1980s, she led one of the agency’s most far-reaching tasks, revising Chapter I of Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. This revision, the first in over 20 years, still stands 30 years later as the most comprehensive legal effort ever taken to strengthen and regularize the enforcement of law in the national parks, increasing the Service’s ability to protect the resources for which it is responsible. In 1990 and 1991, Maureen served on the Environmental Leadership Committee for the Vail Agenda, which celebrated the Service’s 75th Anniversary by providing the vision, direction and leadership for the NPS into the 21st Century.
In 1995, Maureen represented the NPS in the first revision of the Federal Fire Policy, an effort involving five federal land management bureaus, the Interior and Agriculture departments, and state, county, and local wild land fire agencies and organizations. The revised fire policy quantified the appropriate role and use of wild land fire, and with Maureen’s leadership, the NPS position was largely adopted intact.
As Olympic National Park (NP) superintendent, Maureen co-founded the Washington National Parks Fund, a non-profit organization designed to raise private funds, and strengthen friendships and support for the national parks in the State of Washington. This fund was the first multi-park partnership group ever established.
While at Olympic, Maureen also succeeded in creating common cause among the City of Port Angeles, the Elwha Indian Tribe, local businesses, environmental organizations, the Bonneville Power Administration, members of Congress and others to remove the two no longer necessary Elwha River Valley dams, thereby returning one-third of the Olympic NP ecosystem to its natural state and restoring important historic salmon runs. This required careful, sensitive negotiations with other federal agencies, state and local governments, Indian tribes and private industry. She continued her unstinting efforts when she moved to Washington as associate director, convincing both the NPS and the secretary of the Interior of the importance of this action and the national precedence it would set. Her focused and reasoned advocacy were more instrumental than any other single person in the passage of the “Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act” (PL 102-495) in October, 1992. Dam removal, which began in September 2011, is complete. The Elwha is flowing freely again and a major ecosystem in a world renowned national park is being restored.
Under Maureen’s skilled leadership and direction as associate director, park operations and education, the NPS developed and implemented various initiatives including fee demonstration projects, accurate quantification of the maintenance backlog for repair and rehabilitation of park infrastructure, revisions to the concessions policy act, a variety of internal and external law enforcement studies, a strategic plan for structural fire management, aviation over flight standards for wilderness, and interpretive competencies. In addition, she provided direction and leadership as the NPS instituted major policy revisions in law enforcement, public health, special park uses, housing, cooperating associations, and employee safety and health.
As Everglades NP superintendent, Maureen led the development of the largest ecosystem restoration project in the U.S., a project which involved more than 30 diverse organizations and agencies including Florida State, other federal agencies, tribes and non-governmental organizations. She won a consent decree for the improvement of the water quality for Everglades, working collaboratively with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and the South Florida Water Management District. As with the multi-park friends group she helped establish in Washington State, she was instrumental in establishing and motivating the South Florida National Parks Trust.
Maureen was called upon to represent NPS and its director at the International Ranger Federation Congresses in Poland and South Africa. She served as president of the U.S. Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR) and on its board of directors for 13 years. She received the Department of Interior Meritorious Service Award in 1995.
Perhaps Maureen’s greatest contribution to the National Park Service and system was being an informal mentor to and role model for women. Her assistance in providing leadership, vision and direction was invaluable to numerous women as they moved through their careers and into leadership positions. In retirement, she continues her important work on behalf of parks, serving on the executive council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (formerly the NPS Retirees) for 11 years and as its chair for the last 5 years. She is also a Trustee of the Shenandoah National Park Trust, and is president of the newly established Manassas Battlefield Trust. She received the Department of the Interior’s Distinguished Service Award in 2016.