In her twenty-eight years with the National Park Service, Leslie Reynolds ’82 has helped a lot of park visitors out of tight situations. From rescuing climbers off the high-angle cliff faces of El Capitan via helicopter to swift water rescues in Yosemite’s Merced River, Leslie has conducted search and rescue operations in the air, on water, on horseback, in vehicles, and hiking through the backcountry. She has also worked in a variety of different climates and terrains. Leslie served as district ranger for the Yosemite Valley District, chief ranger at Shenandoah National Park, acting chief ranger at Yellowstone National Park, and chief ranger for the Cape
Cod National Seashore, where she is currently the deputy superintendent managing park operations.
After graduating from Fay, Leslie went to Tabor Academy and Merrimack College, where she earned a business management degree. On a road trip after graduation, Leslie stopped at the Grand Canyon, where she stood at Mather Point looking out over the South Rim. “It took my breath away,” she recalls. “I decided that I needed to work there. I needed to be there.” Leslie took a concession job at the park and started volunteering with the Wilderness Rangers. She got her EMT certification and structural fire and wildlife fire certification. Leslie was interested in working in rescue operations as a park ranger with the National Park Service, so she went to the law enforcement seasonal academy in California.
As federal police officers, park ranger responsibilities are generally three-fold. The first is investigating and responding to crimes like violence, theft, or driving under the influence within the park’s bounds. Rangers also protect visitors from the dangers of a wild and unfamiliar landscape, responding to injuries and stranded or lost individuals. Their final area of focus is protecting the park from damage by visitors. “No matter what park you work in,” says Leslie, “our mission in the National Park Service is to protect the wildlife, natural, and cultural resources so that we can preserve them for future generations.” Leslie spent much of her career in visitor protection, amassing a slate of skills in law enforcement, medicine, horse patrol, boat patrol, incident management, and search management.
In 2012, Leslie took the position of Chief Ranger at the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS), the 40 miles of ponds, woods, dunes, and beaches that line the eastern coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Like her previous assignments at Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Shenandoah, the National Seashore offered many of the same responsibilities and new challenges. Since the passage of the Marine Mammal Act in 1972, the seal population in and around Cape Cod has been slowly rebounding. Great white sharks have also returned, drawn closer inland by their favorite prey. During Leslie’s first year, there were two shark incidents on the Cape, and protecting and educating the public about how to safely recreate in its waters took on greater urgency.
Leslie contacted experts in South Africa and Australia to learn from their best practices. The CCNS also formed a regional shark working group with towns on the outer Cape, Massachusetts Marine Fisheries, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy to collaborate on safety measures and messaging to the public. Inspired by South Africa’s color-coded flag system, Leslie created a flag with a purple background to signal dangerous marine life and a white shark to remind swimmers that there are sharks in Cape waters. Other efforts spearheaded by the group have included school education programs and the Sharktivity app, which tracks the location of tagged and sighted sharks in Cape waters.
In 2020, Leslie was promoted to Deputy Superintendent, where she now manages all the division chiefs and operations at the seashore. Her role has transitioned from responding to emergencies and calls for service to proactively managing and anticipating risks through communication and education. “Education is one of the things that we do really well in the National Park Service because we manage wild places, and we can’t eliminate all risk,” she says.
From the beaches, lighthouses, and kettle ponds of the Cape Cod National Seashore to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian Trail running through Shenandoah, Leslie’s respect and appreciation for the individual character of each National Park has only grown over the years. Even though she has spent a career working inside some of America’s greatest national parks, she knows there is more to see. Every year she tries to visit one new park, not as a ranger, just as a tourist and appreciator of the National Park System as a historical, cultural, and natural resource. This year she immersed herself in Civil War history, traveling to Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and she hopes to get to Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, and Bandelier in New Mexico. “It’s been a fabulous career,” says Leslie, “and I’m always up for an adventure!”