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Retiring Virginia State Parks director receives national recognition

Submitted by Jim Meisner, Jr. • Sep 28, 2019 at 10:25 AM

Virginia State Parks Director Craig Seaver was recently named Director of the Year by the National Association of State Park Directors. The NASPD presented him with the Distinguished Service Award at its annual conference, Sept. 5, in Rogers, Arkansas. The award was determined by a vote of other state park directors across the country.

Seaver, who spent more than 20 years at Natural Tunnel State Park, is retiring in October after 34 years of public service.

“We recognized Craig Seaver for his selfless dedication to Virginia’s natural resources and to state park visitors,” said Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors. “His accomplishments as Virginia State Parks director have been impressive. From launching new programs, such as Parks Rx and Round Up for Parks, to working with the Garden Club of Virginia and its $500,000 in grants to Virginia State Parks, his work on behalf of the parks he represents is commendable. His Ranger First program instills in park staff an ethos of servant leadership, dedication, teamwork and passion for conservation efforts. At the national level, he is an im-portant friend and role model for other state park directors, and his presence will be missed.”

The seventh Virginia State Parks director in the system’s 83 years, Seaver is only the second to work his way up from the field.

Seaver began state service while camping in a tent in July 1985. “I was interviewing for a park ranger position at Fairy Stone State Park,” Seaver recalled. “Finances were tight; we’d been married only a month, so my wife Karen and I camped out the night before the interview at Fairy Stone.”

He got his start in parks as part of the federal Youth Conservation Corps program in the summer of 1978. He worked as a wage employee in county and state parks in Ohio while in high school and college. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and an associate degree in natural resource management from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in 1984, he was eager for a full-time job. He found it.

“After the interview, I was offered a park ranger position at Smith Mountain Lake State Park,” he said.

As was tradition in those days, transfers and promotions quickly followed. He moved to Mason Neck State Park as a chief ranger, Douthat State Park as an assistant and then to Caledon State Park as a park manager. Next, he transferred to Staunton River State Park and was later promoted to manage Natural Tunnel State Park in March 1989. He remained there until February 2012 when he was promoted to field operations manager. In January 2014, he was named interim director of Virginia State Parks and was offered the full-time position in August 2014.

As state parks director, Seaver spearheaded several initiatives with long-lasting impacts on Virginia State Parks. The Round Up for Parks program allows visitors to round up to the nearest dollar when they make camping or cabin reservations or make purchases in a gift shop. The program received more than $30,000 in donations last year. He ensured that Virginia State Parks was the first statewide park system in the country to support the Parks Rx America program, designed to encourage doctors to prescribe time outdoors to their patients.

He also oversaw a period of growth in Virginia State Parks. Under his leadership, state park visitation reached 10 million visitors for the first time in history. During his tenure, visitor participation in ranger-led programs increased nearly 39 percent, from 350,000 visitors in 2014 to more than 484,000 visitors in 2018. He opened two new state parks, Natural Bridge State Park and Widewater State Park, and began development of four new state parks: Sweet Run, Machicomoco, Clinch River and Seven Bends.

He was also responsible for introducing yurts into the parks. Bridging the difference between cabins and camping, yurts allow visitors the opportunity to stay in the campground, in a lightly-furnished canvas and wood structure. There are 46 yurts in 13 parks.

He attributes his rise through the system to his leadership philosophy. “I strive to be a servant leader, to utilize the collective intelligence of the team, to listen, to go beyond guest expectations, and to establish positive relationships with cowork-ers, partners, friends and community leaders,” he said, adding “it’s also important to have a sense of humor.”