Our parks’ dark corners

 

When new editorial intern Lyndsey Gilpin, a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, walked into our office last January, she had no idea that her first assignment would last 11 months. We asked her to look into a government report that revealed long-term patterns of sexual discrimination and harassment at Grand Canyon National Park. This year was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and the timing, I suppose, was not great for the agency. Still, the public lands, and the parks especially, are a key part of the West’s grandeur, and the women who dedicate their lives to protecting these landscapes deserve protection as well.

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A female park ranger and scenes from Death Valley National Park, California.
Laura Camden, Ronda Churchill; Photo Illustration: Brooke Warren

Over the ensuing months, Lyndsey discovered that the problem of harassment and gender discrimination goes well beyond the Grand Canyon, to other national parks and federal agencies. We set up a tip form for our readers and received so many emails that we had to create a spreadsheet. Lyndsey spent countless hours speaking to women who had experienced some form of abuse. Many of them, she learned, felt they had no recourse; they could either complain and face likely retaliation, be silent, or, as many have chosen to do, leave the agency altogether.

Later, in April, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis expanded an investigation into his agency, saying then that he hoped the Grand Canyon was an anomaly. It was not. In fact, further scrutiny showed that the agency had widely failed, over many years, to protect women from hostile work environments, harassment, abuse and assault.

Managing editor Brian Calvert

Lyndsey traveled to meet some of the victims and understand the systemic problems they faced, from Death Valley, California, to Montana, to Washington, D.C. Through dogged reporting, she has put together a clear picture of harassment and other abuses within the Park Service. This issue’s cover story does more than describe the abuses, however. It examines why they continue to occur, and offers suggestions on what the agency can do to improve its response. At a time when good journalism is in short supply, this is the kind of unflinching reporting we all could use more of. I’m proud to have it in our pages.

As for the Park Service, I hope the agency takes this reporting as it was intended, as a means to shine some light on a problem that has remained in the dark too long. Jarvis has announced a thorough investigation and pledged to make reporting harassment easier. We hope he can keep that promise — and more. The women of the National Park Service, and the workers who stand up for them, deserve it.