Melody Webb

My favorite Park Ranger uniform is the pants, long-sleeved shirt, “Ike” jacket and cross tie.

Is the National Park Service (NPS) unique in the world? For years, the world looked to the U.S. for leadership in managing national parks. Sometime in the mid-1980s, NPS stopped providing advice, assistance and financial help. When I attended the World Congress on National Parks in 1992, other nations wondered out loud why the U.S. had fallen into the background and even embarrassed other countries with its insensitivity.

Which possesses the more muddled bureaucracy: the academy or the NPS? Hands down—the academy.  I have worked in both systems.

By education and profession, you’re a historian. How did you go about considering your own life in a historical context? During my career, many of the major events or issues of the National Park Service occurred where I was located—the Alaska parks, wolves, grizzly bears, and a host of political controversies. By experiencing these issues firsthand, I was able to provide a fresh and personal perspective for the reader.

Other than a desire to show your husband who the best writer in the family is, what brought you to write your latest book? No contest. Bob Utley writes better than any historian of the American West and has shaped my writing in every way. I wrote A Woman in the Great Outdoors because I wanted the American people to know what was happening to their national parks.

What can the average person do to help assure the future of the NPS? The most important thing anyone can do for the National Park Service is prevent special interests from dominating policy and decision making.

Americans may be able to appreciate the beauty of their parks, but they often don’t express their requirement that parks stay unimpaired. They are too willing to allow the special interests to take over their parks.  Special interests include snowmobilers, hunters, bicyclists, RV owners, film producers and concessioners.

History has taught me life is unpredictable, but has great rewards. I’ve learned that you have to take advantage of the breaks as they come and not be afraid to take some risks for a greater good—as biographies of the most significant American leaders illustrate.

I always advise others with a similar passion for this country’s resources to work to ensure it stays unimpaired. Get involved in the issues—wolves, snowmobiles, bison, grizzly bears, inappropriate development and special uses.

The best advice I ever received was to join the National Park Service. It was the best career any person could expect.


Melody Webb, Former Park Ranger and Historian

Served in the National Park Service for 21 years and both created and witnessed many changes in that institution. In her new book, A Woman in the Great Outdoors published by the University of New Mexico Press, she recounts her incredible experiences.

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