On the Job With National Park Service Intermountain Region Director

Kate Hammond blends a passion for preservation with practical leadership, ensuring America’s natural treasures remain breathtaking and accessible.

Kate Hammond
Photo by Jon Rose.

With her team of over 4,000 employees, Kate Hammond, regional director of the National Park Service Intermountain Region, manages 85 NPS units across eight states. These include national parks like the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone, as well as historical sites such as Mesa Verde, Sand Creek Massacre, and Amache. Hammond’s resume includes a bachelor’s degree in history and environmental studies from Yale University, a transformative summer job as a backcountry ranger at Denali, and a master’s degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry. She also served in the U.S. Peace Corps, working with the Argentine National Park Service to establish a lasting collaboration between the U.S. and Argentina’s national parks. Armed with a 30-year career in the field, she welcomes over 56 million visitors to the parks in our region each year and works with dozens of tribes, stakeholders, and community partners in their mission. Excited to learn more about the woman doing so much for our national parks, we headed out on a hike at Mount Falcon Park in Morrison.

An outdoorsy upbringing: “I grew up in Massachusetts with Minute Man National Historical Park in my backyard. My mother was interested in birding and nature, so I was fortunate to travel to many national parks growing up, from Virgin Islands National Park to Joshua Tree. I recall visiting Olympic National Park in elementary school—my sister and I were so awestruck that we both swore we would have our weddings there. I did not have my wedding at Olympic, but that visit did spark a career that has brought my now-husband to many national parks.”

Her professional background: “I was fortunate to grow up visiting national parks with my family. While in college studying history and environmental studies at Yale, I applied to a summer job as a backcountry ranger at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. It was an experience of a lifetime and I knew from that point that I wanted to be a part of protecting our national parks and sharing them with their owners, the American public. I started working with the National Park Service shortly after my return from the Peace Corps. My nearly 30-year career with the National Park Service has taken me to places ranging from Washington DC to Montana, and from roles ranging from legislative affairs to park superintendent. I left the NPS briefly to get a master’s degree in environmental management but was drawn back because of my love for the incredible parks and the wonderful professionals who work for the National Park Service.”

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Experiencing the Peace Corps: “I joined right out of college and worked for the Argentine National Park Service. I helped lead the education and outreach team at one of their national parks, Parque Nacional El Palmar, which protects a relict palm forest a couple hours north of Buenos Aires. I had the opportunity to travel to many of the national parks in Argentina to help train their employees. Argentina has a great national park system. While I was there, we were able to start a collaborative relationship between the national parks agencies of the U.S. and Argentina, which has lasted more than 30 years.”

Her love for the parks: “I love the diversity. They are like the ‘greatest hits’ of the United States, representing many of our ecosystems from the Everglades of Florida to the alpine tundra of Alaska, but also our history from the ancestral Puebloan culture preserved at Mesa Verde to the story of unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II at Amache in Grenada, CO. National parks are great places to learn and explore amazing, beautiful, and ecologically important places, but also places to learn about who we are as Americans—both the good and the bad.”

A day in the life: “A day could include meeting with elected officials in one of our parks’ gateway communities, engaging with other NPS leaders on a national policy decision, or meeting with regional staff to prioritize funding requests. No two days are the same, and I love working with the great variety of subject matter experts in the National Park Service, from archeologists to wastewater treatment operators to information technology specialists. It’s also an honor to work for a federal agency that the American public likes. We get to be a part of people’s once-in-a-lifetime experiences.” 

Working with local tribes: “Today’s national parks were and are the homelands of tribal peoples. Tribes have knowledge, perspectives, history, and values that, by law, policy, and need, we work collaboratively with through government-to-government consultation. I can’t imagine managing Mesa Verde without input from the tribes whose ancestors lived there.”

Challenges facing the parks: “The cost of living in many of our gateway communities such as Jackson Hole or Estes Park is not affordable. Some of our locations such as Big Bend National Park in Texas or Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona are very remote with limited amenities and long distances to groceries, schools, or medical facilities, making employee recruiting and retention difficult.” 

Her parenting style: “Modeling spending time outdoors every day is really important, particularly when kids are drawn to their electronics. I spend time outside almost every day, whether hiking, riding my mountain bike, or walking my dog. Studies show this is critical for both adults’ and children’s physical and mental health, plus it’s great to unplug from electronics.”  

Getting involved: “Our service region recently received over $550 million from the Great American Outdoors Act to assist with deferred maintenance and repairs, including rehabilitating a water system, campground electrical system, and a visitor center at Rocky Mountain National Park; replacing water lines at Mesa Verde National Park; and rehabilitating park housing at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. To contribute to these efforts, people can join Volunteers-In-Parks.”