Carmen Chapin said she had always loved the outdoors since she was a little girl watching deer and other wildlife roam through her family's property in rural Minnesota.
Her love for nature and the American Southwest brought her to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park after working with the park services for almost two decades.
National Park Service (NPS) Regional Director Mike Reynolds announced Chapin was selected as the park's superintendent on Jan. 6, according to a news release.
“Carmen’s communication and leadership styles come with strong accolades from staff across the agency,” Reynolds stated in the news release. “We believe that her commitment to transparency and collaboration will make her a great fit for the passionate and dedicated team we have at Carlsbad Caverns.”
As superintendent Chapin will oversee over 46,000 acres of land, 119 known caves and an annual operating budget of more than $5.4 million, according to the NPS website. Chapin said she will work with the park's 45 employees to ensure it is adhering to federal laws and policies.
The park's previous superintendent Douglas “Doug” Neighbor left Carlsbad Caverns National Park in July to take on a new position as superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway, the Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site and the Tupelo National Battlefield.
Chapin said she joined the National Park Service about 18 years ago when she realized she could make a difference by helping manage some of the country's natural wonders.
"I think meeting the mission of Park Services to preserve these resources for future generations is something that makes me excited to go to work every day," Chapin said.
Chapin said she is looking to see a change in scenery, discover a new environment and get away from the cold after living in the Midwest and East Coast for most of her life.
“Anybody that says that the desert is boring is sorely misguided. It’s a new ecosystem to learn about and I think that’s what makes it professionally exciting for me to be out in that part of the world,” Chapin said.
Chapin said the Southwest is one of her favorite places to vacation in the winter and knows to order her enchiladas "Christmas style," when visiting New Mexico.
She holds a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Notre Dame and previously served as superintendent of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Chapin said she is looking forward to buying a home in Carlsbad and starting her own garden.
"There's nothing like homegrown tomatoes and peppers," Chapin said. "When I’m not outside or in the garden, I like to cook and try different cuisines … It's just really interesting how people can use the same ingredients and make all kinds of different combinations of food.”
Chapin may soon get a chance to explore New Mexico's flavors with a bag of Hatch green chiles she said Neighbor left behind for her.
Claudia Silva is a reporter from the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at email@example.com, by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Meet Carlsbad Caverns National Park's new superintendent