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Joan Willey Interviews Nina Settina About State Parks
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2008

Nina Settina’s philosophy for State Parks is that they should serve as an oasis for people from all walks of life who seek a periodic respite from the sights and sounds of man. She also believes that state parks should be models of ecosystem management and restoration, providing healthy forests, meadows, wetlands, streams and rivers to support the diversity of Maryland’s native flora and fauna.

Joan Willey:  You have recently been appointed as Superintendent of Maryland State Parks. What is your philosophy for State Parks?

 

Nina  Settina:  My philosophy for State Parks is that they should serve as an oasis for people from all walks of life who seek a periodic respite from the sights and sounds of man. I also believe that state parks should be models of ecosystem management and restoration, providing healthy forests, meadows, wetlands, streams and rivers to support the diversity of Maryland’s native flora and fauna. State parks also tell the fascinating story of how the natural environment influenced history. Maryland State Parks are rich in cultural and historical places that have meaning for generations of Americans, from Native American culture to the Civil War. Together, I believe that State Parks provide people, particularly children, with the life-long gift of a connection to nature and their heritage.

This philosophy will have some practical influences on how we manage Maryland’s state parks. We want to avoid over-developing the parks, providing passive recreation opportunities, such as hiking and biking on trails, enjoying a picnic under a forested canopy, fishing, swimming and boating in natural water bodies, visiting restored historical sites and camping in undeveloped forest settings. These kinds of outdoor recreation activities are largely and uniquely available in Maryland’s State Parks.

 

We are also putting greater emphasis on resource restoration to conserve ecosystem function wherever possible. We are working in partnership with the MD Department of Transportation on plans to convert agricultural uses in our State Parks to meadows, wetlands and forests, particularly where we have hydric or highly erodable soils. Even in Day-Use areas, we will continue to employ and expand the “grow don’t mow” practice. Other strategies will include working with our colleagues in the other DNR disciplines to eradicate invasive species, restore stream morphology and improve wildlife habitats.

A positive experience at a Maryland State Park is the result of the often unseen efforts of some 198 dedicated State Park employees, 6,600 caring volunteers and approximately 400 seasonal staff. These individuals, from Park Rangers to park technicians to camp hosts, ensure that the more than 133,000 acres of State Park lands and recreation facilities meet the expectations of 11 million visitors annually.

Many of the State Park recreation amenities were built 75 years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Not only are these facilities historic landmarks, but they continue to provide recreation enjoyment today. Caring for these places is a monumental task that our workforce takes great pride in achieving. An important part of my organizational leadership philosophy is that the State Park workforce feels supported and appreciated, and understands the value of their contributions to the Maryland Park Service mission.

 

I do not believe that it is an overstatement to suggest that the State Park mission is an important contributor to societal well-being. Most recently, we have turned increasing attention to the No Child Left Inside movement sweeping the country. Children are spending dramatically less time in nature enjoying unstructured play than in previous generations. The implications of this phenomenon, known as “nature-deficit disorder,” are alarming, including serious impacts to both the mental and physical well-being of youth. The environmental community also shares these concerns, as children are expected to mature into our future stewards of the Earth. Without a connection to nature, the prospects of future environmentalists carrying forward the torch of conservation grows dim.

The Maryland State Park Service is working on the development of an outdoor discovery program that will provide greater opportunities for youth to discover the awe, wonder and inspiration of nature. This effort will rely on a diverse array of partnerships, and include multi-faceted components to reach youth of all populations, as well as their parents. One program we are working on now is the development of a Civic Justice Corps in partnership with the Department of Juvenile Service. This program will provide adjudicated youth with opportunities to serve on paid summer work crews to restore State Park resources, gain new skills and confidence and recreate in some of Maryland’s most beautiful places.

Last summer, I made a brief visit on the Patuxent River Sojourn to say hello to my Sierra Club friends. I met a group of teens from Baltimore City who were paddling the entire length of the trip with their teacher. I learned that the youth were able to enjoy this incredible experience as a result of a Sierra Club volunteer who had adopted their school. These are the kinds of connections, big and small, throughout Maryland that we must all strive to support.

 

Finally, one of our greatest challenges and opportunities in State Parks is the growing cultural diversity of our visitors, many of whom are non-English speaking. In order to serve these visitors, who clearly seek out State Parks and value recreating in the outdoors, the diversification of our workforce is vital. We will be investing more resources into recruitment efforts to attract a diverse workforce and in educating our park staff on the cultural norms and needs of our park visitors who have recently joined us from other countries.

 

JW: 20 years from now, looking back on your career as Maryland State Parks Superintendent, what would you like to say is your legacy?

 

NS: It may be a little premature to project my hoped for legacy for the next 20 years, having only been in this position for a few months; however, there are several issues that come to mind as part of my long-term vision. In the most practical sense, developing a means to provide the Maryland Park Service with a more stable and adequate funding source is essential. Second, the diversity of our visitor population presents a unique opportunity to bring people together and inspire greater harmony and understanding.

State Parks must remain an affordable recreation and leisure choice for Maryland’s working families. Today, park entrance fees and other charges cover less than 50 percent of the costs of managing a State Park. The pressure to raise these fees is ongoing as the State Park Service battles with an ongoing structural deficit as a result of budget cuts. We must develop a new source of revenue that breaks this vicious cycle, so that State Parks can truly be accessible to all Marylanders as their public estate.

The State of our State Parks relies on the caring and pride of its visitors. The Native Americans believed that the way we treat the Earth is reflective of the way we treat one another. This concept resonates with me very deeply. If State Parks were able to become places of inspiration, where lives were turned around, people were brought together, and stewardship of the Earth was inspired, then this would be my greatest hope for a lifelong legacy.   

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