GULF BREEZE, FL. – After more than 43 years of public service, Gulf Islands National Seashore Superintendent Dan Brown will retire on January 2, 2021. Brown has been Gulf Islands’ superintendent since 2010, arriving just as the Deepwater Horizon oil washed ashore.
Brown’s first three years at Gulf Islands were some of the most challenging of his entire career as he was tasked with assuring the removal of four million pounds of oil from the park’s 106 miles of beaches in Florida and Mississippi did no further harm to the shorebirds, sea turtles and other delicate island resources as the beaches were restored.
During Brown’s ten years at the national seashore, he fulfilled the park’s promise to do everything feasible to maintain Fort Pickens Road, realigning 1.6 miles of the road away from the Gulf of Mexico to reduce storm closures and implementing a new “cellular confinement” road base to improve sustainability.
In Mississippi, Brown and his staff worked hand-in-hand with the US Army Corps of Engineers on the second largest restoration project in the National Park System – the $439 million project to add 19 million cubic yards of sand to Camille Cut and rejoin Ship Island for the first time in 50 years.
Building local partnerships was a priority, as Brown teamed with Escambia County in Florida and the Gulfport YMCA in Mississippi to provide lifeguard services for the park in the most efficient and cost effective way – a creative solution for tight budgets and decreasing staffing.
As the National Park Service (NPS) standardized entrance fees across the country causing the national seashore’s fees to rise, Brown assured the retained fee money was put to best use for visitors, replacing outdated restrooms with hurricane-tough, energy efficient facilities and restoring historic structures to be opened to the public, many for the first time.
In one of his most satisfying accomplishments, Brown helped the greater Pensacola community realize a 50-year dream with the establishment of Pensacola Bay Cruises, securing funding to construct ferry boats and landing facilities, and a 10-year contract with experienced operator HMS Ferries. The delightful excursion through park waters now provides an alternative to traffic-choked roads and bridges. The same project created a free tram service at Fort Pickens for ferry passengers and other park visitors aboard solar-powered electric trams.
A Colorado native, his lifelong dream of working for the NPS began at age six with a family visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, where a wise and gracious park ranger withheld issuing a citation to Brown’s mother for loading their family car with rocks for her rock garden. As the rocks were returned, his mom’s lesson that, “National Parks are such special places that you can’t even take a rock from a National Park,” became life-altering. “I made my decision right then what I wanted to do when I grew up,” said Brown, “and that was work for the National Park Service.”
Brown began his career with the NPS in 1975, and ultimately served in 11 different national park areas. His park experiences ranged from living on a live volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, surviving 48 degrees below zero temperatures at Great Sand Dunes National Park and over 120 degrees at Death Valley National Park, and enduring as little as 2 inches of annual rainfall in Death Valley National Park to over 140 inches in Olympic National Park’s rain forest. His most isolated duty station at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Park required a 360-mile round trip for groceries.
In contrast, his office in the French Quarter headquarters of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in New Orleans was only three blocks from Bourbon Street and a very different kind of wildlife than he anticipated when signing on with the NPS.
Brown also recalls once rappelling 100 ft. down an abandoned mineshaft to rescue a visitor who had fallen, and on another occasion “tether-diving” through rapids in the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River as part of the NPS Dive & Rescue Team. Other memorable accomplishments include directing the multi-national bicentennial re-enactment of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase, and creating a national award-winning video about the cataclysmic glacial Lake Missoula floods that led Congress to create a new NPS unit, the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail.
In addition to his varied park ranger roles, Brown also served as park superintendent at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, was interim Deputy Regional Director overseeing 23 national parks in the Southeast Region, and worked at the NPS Congressional Affairs Office in Washington D.C.
When asked why he decided to retire now on the cusp of the National Seashore’s 50th anniversary, Brown replied, “I’ve had enough fun for several lifetimes. It’s time to give someone else a turn.” Dan and his wife Karen plan to stay in the Pensacola area, sailing, paddling, and enjoying the beautiful beaches.
Steve McCoy, deputy superintendent at Gulf Islands National Seashore will be acting superintendent until a new acting superintendent is selected.