Veteran ranger heading to country’s first national park
TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Sarah Davis has enjoyed her time in Tupelo and has nothing but praise for the people and environment.
“The people are friendly, Tupelo is a great size town with a great location,” said Davis, the chief ranger for the Natchez Trace Parkway. “It’s five hours to the beach and four hours to the mountains.
“I enjoy hunting and fishing, and this is a sportsman’s paradise.”
Davis is heading to Yellowstone National Park, where she will become its first female chief ranger.
Davis, a 20-year veteran of the National Park Service, came to Tupelo in 2012 from an office in Washington, D.C. where she had a 76-mile commute one-way each day to work.
“I wanted to get back to working in a park, not sitting at a desk,” Davis said. “When this position came open, I applied. I had worked at the Blue Ridge Parkway so I had a good idea of what to expect.
“I am originally from North Carolina. Coming here was like coming home. Everybody is so welcoming.”
Since the parkway is a 444-mile long road, Davis wanted to improve safety and reduce the number of fatalities. While most of the traffic on the parkway is around the Tupelo and Jackson areas, the majority of the serious injuries and fatalities are in more rural areas where higher speeds play a role.
Moving rangers away from the big cities helped. So did a new case reporting system and switching to electronic tickets. Between the two, the time writing tickets and doing paperwork has been cut in half, giving them more time to patrol.
While motorists may not be big fans of the parkway’s 50 mph speed limit, it is there for a reason.
“Physics is the biggest reason,” Davis said. “The parkway is very unforgiving. It’s a narrow road with no shoulders. There is very little chance to react.”
The increased patrols, unmarked cars and other measures has had an effect on speeding, distracted driving and fatalities. All have dropped.
While she has enjoyed her stay with the Natchez Trace, her remaining time here is measured in weeks. Part of the park service’s formula is based on short stays and transfers. That allows new people to bring new ideas to the nation’s parks and historic sites to make sure they don’t become stale.
The next assignment for Davis will be as chief ranger at Yellowstone, the country’s first national park and at 2.2 million acres, the largest in the lower 48 states. It is also the park she has visited the most. She admitted working at Yellowstone was definitely on her bucket list.
“I someone says if they could only visit one national park, which one? It has to be Yellowstone,” she said. “It has so much to offer — mountains, meadows, the lake, waterfalls, geysers, mud pots. Then there’s the wildlife — bison, bears, elk and wolves.
“There are thousands of things to see and everything is spectacular. The opportunity to protect and be a part of Yellowstone is something special.”
The move will definitely be a step up for Davis. Where she currently oversees around 45 rangers and has a budget of $3.5 million, at Yellowstone she will have a budget closer to $18 million and a staff of 275 employees.
“I will be here until Thanksgiving and then start the move,” Davis said. “In Yellowstone, I will be living in historic Officers Row in the Mammoth-Hot Springs area.
“I will actually be walking distance from the office and be able to walk home for lunch.”
The biggest change for the Southern girl who likes it hot will be dealing with the cold weather. Some areas of the park are under snow nine months out of the year. But that will be fun and new for her and at least one of her two dogs.
“The older one has seen snow before,” Davis said. “The other one is a Mississippi dog, so I look forward to introducing her to snow for the first time.”