Lassen Volcanic National Park's New Team Leader, Jim Richardson
By Laura Christman
From Open Sea to Open Sky
By Laura Christman
Photo courtesy of Lassen Volcanic National Park
When Jim Richardson landed the top job at Lassen Volcanic National Park he was seven time zones away, surrounded by the open sea and World War II history.
Richardson, 60, joined Lassen Park as superintendent in April after serving three years as superintendent of both the War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam and American Memorial Park in Saipan. He went from areas set aside to tell the stories of the Pacific Theater in World War II and protect coral reef biological diversity to a national park of volcanoes, forests, alpine lakes and bubbling mud pots.
Not that Northern California is new to Richardson. He was chief ranger at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area from 2007 to 2014.
“I’m particularly pleased to return to the North State, where I lived in Redding and worked at Whiskeytown,” he says.
Richardson likes to ski, hike, climb and fish, and is glad to be back in the mountains. At Lassen Park, he oversees a budget of approximately $5.4 million, 46 permanent employees and 90 seasonal workers. He succeeds Steve Gibbons, who retired in January.
Lassen Park is important to the North State’s economy. It had 536,068 visitors last year, who spent $32.6 million in the gateway communities supporting 478 jobs related to food, lodging and other services, according to a federal report.
Lassen also is key to the region’s identity, valued for recreation, relaxation and restoration. When people “can get away from their everyday troubles and issues – maybe even leave their cell phone turned off – and explore the natural world, it is often restorative to the soul,” Richardson says.
He started with the National Park Service in 1982 as a climbing and backcountry ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park. He also worked at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Zion National Park and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Much of his career with the Park Service was in law enforcement, which encompassed aviation, boating, search and rescue, begging coyotes and bears wandering through campgrounds. At Whiskeytown, Richardson earned the Harry Yount Award for excellence in park ranger duties.
“Often our national parks are called America’s best idea, and I would confirm that,” Richardson says.
He describes his superintendent style as “supportive team leader.” He values the partnership between Lassen and Whiskeytown, an example of which is allowing a pass purchased for one park to also gain entry at the other. He plans to meet and establish connections with leaders in communities near Lassen Park.
Lassen Park was one of the first national parks. It celebrated its 100th birthday last summer.
“That oldness is both an advantage and disadvantage,” Richardson says.
There’s a long tradition of protecting resources and offering programs and places for visitors, but also a long list of maintenance needs for campgrounds, roads and buildings, he says.
Cuts and funding constraints from Washington are a concern, he acknowledges. “We’re a little bit in a time of uncertainty.”
Richardson says the National Park Service has been successful at weathering the ups and downs of changes in politics and funding for a century. “We’re not panicked. Our mission is the same … The most important goal is that the park is forever.”
He encourages North State residents to support the park by visiting it. Lassen Peak is seen easily from Redding and signs along Interstate 5 are regular reminders of the park, but “it’s a little bit out of the way,” Richardson says.
A recent accomplishment for the park is Volcano Adventure Camp, he notes. Completed last year, it is providing outdoor experiences for youth groups this summer.
Richardson grew up in Lincoln, Neb. His family spent summers camping, often in national parks. “We would go to every corner of the country … It was that outdoor-experience base that led me to a career in the parks.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation management from University of Nebraska. He and wife, Cindy, have been married 35 years and have two daughters, Hilary, who lives in Iwakura, Japan, and Kyli, who lives in Santa Cruz.
“They got to grow up in some of the most special places in the world, our national parks,” Richardson says.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, www.nps.gov/lavo