Gary Everhardt (1936- ) received the Pugsley Medal in 1990. He began his career with the National Park Service (NPS) after his graduation from North Carolina State University in 1957with a degree in engineering. Prior to his graduation, he had his first taste of the NPS while working as a student engineer doing survey work. After graduation, he continued as an engineer trainee. His initial experience consisted of building campgrounds, installing water systems, laying out roads, doing general park maintenance and improvements at the Blue Ridge Parkway. His hard work and dedication resulted in Everhardt rising in the ranks, earning a promotion to regional coordinator of engineering in the Richmond, Virginia office. At the regional office, he met George Hartzog who became Everhardt's mentor. Hartzog recognized his talents and sponsored his subsequent promotions.
After four years in that capacity, Everhardt was offered a similar position in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he moved to be the chief of regional maintenance and engineering. His next position was assistant superintendent at Yellowstone National Park. His compassionate management of staff and his diplomatic relations with local and state leaders made him a prime candidate for superintendent of Grand Teton National Park when the position became open in 1972. In that year, he was also appointed co-chair of the 1972 national park centennial celebration.
Everhardt was described by former director George Hartzog as ““calm, competent, and cautious," and by another peer as "a deceptively genial administrator who was well known as a shrewd operator with an effortless style that produced consistently good results." Thus, when he was appointed director of the NPS in January 1975, his appointment was greeted warmly by NPS employees, alumni, and the citizen conservation organizations. For the previous two years, the NPS director had been a former aide to President Nixon and had no experience either with the NPS or with any other large organization. As a result, the NPS director's office had been impotent and its daily responsibilities usurped by the assistant secretary of Interior to whom the NPS director normally reported. Thus, morale in the NPS was low. When President Nixon resigned, and Everhardt was appointed to the director's position, there was every reason to believe the full authority of the office would be restored and that the appointment of a career NPS person signaled that President Ford's administration was committed :to restoring pride in the NPS and good stewardship of America 's natural resources.
Everhardt had been surprised at his elevation to the director's position. Later when reflecting on his appointment he observed, “I had never worked in the Washington office. To reach down and get someone from within the ranks in my case, shows a certain amount of naivete. It is not like being out in Wyoming with a local conservation community. It’s as different as night and day. "However, his fitness for the position was apparent to others. Thus, NPS retirees (alumni) at their reunion in fall 1974 sent a letter to the Interior secretary, signed by former director Connie Wirth, in which they listed five career NPS people whom they recommended for the position, and Everhardt was one of them.
Under Everhardt the NPS did an outstanding job during the 1976 Bicentennial year. It was the only agency to put together a sustained program of activities. These improvements required raising an awareness of the value of the NPS and of the importance of interpretation as a component of park services. Everhardt made several trips to Alaska during this period and helped shape the designation of Alaska's national forests and national parks, which was enacted during the subsequent Carter Administration. Everhardt consistently reiterated the theme that national parks are a gift not only to the American public, but to all mankind.
In the planning and management of all parks, we must be guided by the unifying management principle that protection of ecological health and historic integrity is our first consideration and priority; that these resources are conserved for the benefit and inspiration of the people through the understanding ,appreciation, and enjoyment of the values being preserved.
Everhardt was appointed by a Republican administration, and six months after a Democratic administration came into office, Everhardt was replaced, so his tenure as director was limited to two and a half years. He was reassigned to his dream job as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway and remained in that position until his retirement in 2000.At the Parkway, he focused on improving interpretive programming, developing more trails, and raising the visibility of the park. The parkway is different from classical national parks, which have few roads and a central visitor's center. Everhardt viewed the unusual configuration as offering an unusual opportunity to attract large numbers of visitors. The central feature of this park is the parkway, which allows motorists to experience spectacular vistas and see the local flora and fauna in an accessible way.
While superintendent of the parkway, Everhardt became involved in several groups such as the National Park Service Employee and Alumni Advisory Group and the executive committee of Western North Carolina Tomorrow. When asked to reflect on his 43-year career within the NPS, Everhardt noted that it was not his initial intention to work for NPS, but found his career to be a dream fulfilled and was grateful to have had the chance to be a part of something for which he felt such commitment and passion.
Hartzog, George B. (1988). Battling for the National Parks. Mt Kisco, NY: Meyer Bell