Hola Ranger ~ a discussion with author and former acting National Park Service Director David Vela

Hola Ranger ~ a discussion with author and former acting National Park Service Director David Vela

On Thursday July 20,2023, The Joy Trip Reading Project hosted an online discussion with former acting National Park Service Director David Vela, author of “Hola Ranger: My Journey Through the National Parks.”

Vela is the former superintendent of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He has also worked as the National Park Service’s director for workforce and inclusion; director of the National Park Service Southeast region; and superintendent of the George Washington Memorial ParkwayPalo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.

He has held other positions at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia; Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Nominated as director of the National Park Service in 2018, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance Vela’s nomination, but he was never confirmed by the Senate. Vela joined the National Park Service’s Washington office as acting deputy director of operations. In September 2019, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that he was promoting Vela to director on an acting basis. Vela is the first Latino to lead the National Park Service.

In his book “Hola Ranger”, Vela shares his personal story of a long career spent in service to the preservation of public land. As a Latino working in spaces where he was typically in the minority of staff representation or leadership, his experience as shared in this memoir serves as a role model for aspiring young stewards of the natural environment to follow.

“This is a book that provides a road map for how a Latino country boy from Southeast Texas realized his dream,” Vela writes. “In addition, it honors the achievements and sacrifices of all NPS employees as well as colleagues of color who made their journey through the national parks and opened the door for my own journey. Whether they realized it or not, their work over many decades helped to open doors of opportunity for future generations in the National Park Service.”

On June 9, 2020, Vela issued a bold statement on race, equity, and the values of the National Park Service. (click to read) Unfortunately, his comments were perceived as controversial and contradictory to the policies of the presidential administration at that time. Not long after public denunciations of his views, Vela resigned from his position and took early retirement. In our conversation he speaks candidly about his decision, sharing details not included in his book.

Author discussions on the Joy Trip Reading Project are made possible thanks to the support of the Schlecht Family Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and The National Park Service in partnership with the Together Outdoors and University of Wisconsin Madison Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies.

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