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Anjna O’Connor joins Big Bend National Park as new superintendent

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Carlos Morales
/
Marfa Public Radio
A view from the Window Trail at Big Bend National Park.

The new superintendent of Big Bend National Park has been on the job now for a few weeks now.

Anjna O’Connor was tapped for the job in May after the park’s previous superintendent, Bob Krumenaker, retired.

She was previously a supervisory program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and comes to the park as multiple long-term projects are getting underway, including a multi-million dollar effort to rebuild the park’s Chisos Mountain Lodge.

Marfa Public Radio spoke with O’Connor about the road ahead for the park.

Interview Highlights

What brought her to the Big Bend

O’Connor was most recently living in Hamilton, Texas, but grew up in the small West Texas town of Kermit.

Her roles at the Army Corps of Engineers included everything from being a park ranger to supervising construction projects — working across the country and overseas.

“The corps, being a very varied, diverse organization, I’ve just had a lot of different experiences with the corps,” she said.

O’Connor said she was inspired to shift gears and join the National Park Service after visiting Big Bend a few years ago.

“It was just a great opportunity to get back to natural resource management,” she said. “More than half my 34-year career with the corps of engineers was spent in a field office working natural resource management, recreation at our lake offices. So, this was a great opportunity to kind of circle back to the beginning of my career and going back to, really, what I love to do.”

Limiting park access during the Chisos Mountain Lodge project

Earlier this year, Big Bend National Park officials announced tentative plans for how they plan to limit access in the park’s Chisos Basin area once construction on the new Chisos Mountain Lodge begins in 2025.

However, O’Connor said the plan is “still a draft at this point.”

“It is going to be very dependent on what the contractor requirements are,” she said. “Having worked construction projects before, I would like to take a minute to see what is the contractor going to require.”

O’Connor’s priorities for the park

O’Connor said the park’s aging infrastructure is one of the issues she wants to focus on, although she acknowledged that “budgets are limited.”

“It’s what can we effectively get done,” she said.

She also wants to focus on making the park a great place to work and live.

“Really working on our recruitment, retention of our staff, that’s an important thing,” she said. “We really want to focus on quality of life for our employees as well.”

The park’s role in the broader Big Bend tourism sector

Tourism in the Big Bend region has skyrocketed in recent years, a trend that’s come with a fair share of growing pains ranging from concerns about housing availability to water resources.

O’Connor said the park has a role to play in responding to the growing number of visitors by focusing on environmental education and long-term sustainability measures.

“Some of the same issues that we have with the park are consistent throughout our local communities as well,” she said. “I don’t expect visitation is going to go down in the near future, so how do we prepare for that demand?”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.