After a family vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado at the age of 13, I knew that I wanted to become a National Park Service Ranger. On returning home to New York that summer, I began learning everything I could about our nation's National Parks and historic sites. In the years to come, I began volunteering at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, and in 2009, I was awarded the first annual George B. Hartzog, Jr. Youth Volunteer Award by the National Park Service. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. As a high school student each year, I would volunteer at the site for over 400 hours a year by providing tours of the Roosevelt Home and cataloging cultural artifacts of great importance. Finally in 2011, I was offered my first job as a National Park Service Ranger—I couldn't have been happier. But as the weeks turned to months, I soon learned what went on "behind closed doors," and saw firsthand nepotism, corruption, and mismanagement.
The rangers at the site would describe Sagamore Hill as a "stepping stone" park. Where the park's Chief of Interpretation and Superintendent would use small parks like Sagamore Hill to advance throughout the agency to the larger and "crown jewel" parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Gettysburg, and Yellowstone. They were willing to do almost anything to advance their careers, even if it meant breaking the law. I began to see firsthand the cutthroat nature of the park's administrators.
To "look good" in the eyes of the Northeast Regional Director and to save the park money, the park's Superintendent Kelly Fuhrmann and the park's Chief of Interpretation Martin Christiansen decided to do away with the parks maintenance staff on weekends, even as the bathrooms became filthy and visitors began to complain. Fuhrmann and Christiansen's decision became almost deadly, as on one Sunday morning during an ice storm, there was no maintenance staff at the park, and two rangers including myself and Jean Erlandsen were involved in near fatal car accidents on icy roads leading into the park. My car flipped over and smashed into a utility pole with multiple airbags deploying, I was later taken away in an ambulance. The parks chief of interpretation was found later that morning lying in bed in his home on the park's grounds.
To Sagamore Hill's Superintendent Kelly Fuhrmann and to the park's Chief of Interpretation Martin Christiansen, what mattered most was not the park, the preservation of history, or the visitors to the park, but themselves and their careers.
On one occasion, Park Ranger Scott Guerney found a job application form belonging to Fuhrmann in a government printer. The job application was for director of Outagamie County, Wisconsin Parks. It was common practice for Fuhrmann and Christiansen to use government resources including computers and telephones on work time to land lucrative jobs.
Most recently, after the passing of Sagamore Hill's Bookstore Manger Debbie Bulk, Christiansen maneuvered to get his wife the position. Lo and behold, Christensen's wife, Melissa Ann Schoeffell, was awarded the position. The Bookstore brings in over $200,000 a year for the park, and the Superintendent and Chief of Interpretation have the authority to renew the bookstore contract for the park.
Upon learning this, I and other rangers filed a complaint with the Northeast Region of the National Park Service, and the region opened up an investigation into what many described as a "kickback scheme." Oyster Bay's lead Newspaper the Enterprise Pilot ran a story entitled "Sagamore Hill Faces Misconduct Allegations." After the story ran, Fuhrmann and Christiansen reached out to Rose Fennell, the Deputy Regional Director who hired both Fuhrmann and Christiansen and her to close the case which she did. It was not a surprise to myself, and rangers, Jeremy Hoyt, and Scott Guerney that Fuhrmann and Christiansen were cleared by the Northeast Region, because time and time again corruption has been overlooked in the region.
What was disappointing was that long time rangers at the site refused to report this misconduct which they knew was going on. When questioned by reporters for various local media outlets, including Newsday, many lied and said they were not aware of the investigation and confided to me later that they were afraid of losing their jobs.
What was most startling to me was that when Park Ranger Jeremy Hoyt questioned Martin Christiansen about getting his wife Melissa a job at the park, Christiansen called law enforcement on Hoyt and accused him of embezzling and stealing from the park's cash register. Christiansen, due to the intense scrutiny in the local Oyster Bay Press, and a new investigation by the Department of the Interior's Inspector General's Office, left Sagamore Hill for an equivalent position at the Grand Canyon.
According to the Federal Times, the Director of the Northeast Region for the National Park Service, Michael A. Caldwell, still has his job after admitting to have committed travel fraud in 2016. This is not a new thing for the Northeast Region or for the National Park Service as in 2009, investigators found over 3,000 sexually explicit images on the work computer of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar, who was not fired or brought up on criminal charges but like Christiansen was able to transfer to another site, in this case Latschar transferred to Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland.
The American people would also learn firsthand about the mismanagement of the National Park Service when most recent National Park Serviceman John Jarvis was forced to testify in front of the United State House Oversight Committee on multiple occasions for his agency's cover-up of over 20 instances of sexual harassment.
As the National Park Service celebrated its 100th year Anniversary last year in 2016, the agency is now at a crossroads. Whether it will be able to get its reputation back and whether the agency's leaders will be able to root out nepotism, mismanagement, and corruption will be the story of the agency's next 100 years. As a young person who cares deeply about his country and in the preservation of our nation's natural and cultural landmarks, I will do everything within my ability to see that the proper reforms are brought into the agency to change the consummate culture of nepotism, mismanagement, and corruption.
Adam Sackowitz is pursuing his master's degree in history at St. John's University where he is writing his graduate thesis on the life and legacy of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn.
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