RALEIGH –North Carolina’s state parks director Lewis Ledford is retiring from the state agency he has led for the past decade to become the executive director for the National Association of State Park Directors.
Ledford, who helped spearhead the state’s purchase of Chimney Rock and Grandfather Mountain, leaves an organization he has served with for 37 years effective Dec. 31. Leaders in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources plan to launch a national search for Ledford’s replacement soon.
“I'm excited for Lewis, but I’m sad that we are losing such a dedicated leader,” said John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “Lewis has had a distinguished career with us and will be missed. He embraced a customer service attitude that made the state parks system a national model for service to our state’s citizens. Now, we will begin the process to find a leader to carry on the great tradition that our state parks have established as we approach the 100th anniversary of the North Carolina state parks system in 2016.”
Ledford joined the North Carolina parks system in 1976 as a ranger at William B. Umstead State Park. He served in many park management capacities, including park superintendent at Mount Mitchell State Park, district superintendent, and superintendent of state parks. He became state parks director in 2003. Under his leadership, state park lands have increased by more than 50,000 acres and the parks system has boasted record levels of visitation. Ledford guided the creation of five new state parks, a state trail and six natural areas. He also has overseen the start of a full-service Internet- and call center-based reservations system for the organization.
Ledford announced his departure officially on Monday and told his employees and DENR’s leadership that his decision was bittersweet.
“As you can imagine, this was a very difficult decision for me,” Ledford stated in an email to department staff. “While I am excited about this great opportunity to continue to work in support of parks and conservation efforts and initiatives on a national and, in some cases, international level, I will miss being part of an innovative, effective and customer service-oriented state parks system. I will also miss the many friends and colleagues that I have made throughout the years and in the current organization.”
The National Association of State Park Directors helps state park systems effectively manage and administer their state park systems.