In the summer of 2008, the bodies of dozens of ducks and ducklings were found floating in the Capitol Reflecting Pool, prompting the National Park Service to cordon off the area. As park officials later explained, the noncirculating pools of water on the National Mall are conducive to avian botulism, a paralytic disease that has killed scores of waterfowl.
Dead ducks are but one of many challenges facing America’s Front Yard, the crown jewel of the national park system. Each year, 30 million visitors trample the sprawling lawn, which is now as hard as concrete. And the Jefferson Memorial plaza, perched atop a sea wall, has sunk 8 inches in the past two years.
Enter Bob Vogel, who on Wednesday was named superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Previously deputy superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, Vogel will oversee a $700 million renovation of the Mall set in motion when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a Record of Decision last year.
The National Mall Plan is more of a facelift than an upgrade; according to the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall, an official Park Service partner, the emblematic space needs $400 million in deferred maintenance.
Vogel earned a sterling reputation at Grand Teton, but his new appointment is on a different order of magnitude. He will oversee a $31 million budget—more than twice that of Grand Teton. He will also be sucked into the capital vortex, scrutinized by federal lawmakers and the Washington press corps alike.
Speaking to National Journal Daily from his office in Jackson, Wyo., Vogel sounded eager to get started. “The problems facing the Mall can be daunting,” he admitted. “But it’s an iconic place for our nation, and I’m determined to get the resources we need to protect and preserve it.”
Vogel has already demonstrated a penchant for large-scale projects. At Grand Teton, he built a visitors’ center, administered federal stimulus funds, and worked closely with the Jackson Hole Airport Board on an environmental-impact statement related to a use agreement with the Park Service. He also collaborated with state officials on an equitable-value exchange of Wyoming state lands within the national park.
A native of Cape Girardeau, Mo., Vogel has 30 years of experience in park management. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, he joined the Park Service as a seasonal interpreter. In the ensuing decades, he zipped from park to park, stopping at Bryce Canyon National Park, in Tropic, Utah; Fort Frederica National Monument, in St. Simons, Ga.; the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, in South Fork, Pa.; and the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, in Lilly, Pa.
Before arriving at Grand Teton in 2007, he was superintendent at Cape Lookout National Seashore in Harkers Island, N.C.; and at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, N. C.
Vogel is now packing up his navy-blue Honda Accord in preparation for the move. His wife, a GIS analyst for the Park Service, will not be joining him in Washington until their daughter graduates from Jackson Hole High School next year. But Vogel is in it for the long haul.
“He’s making a commitment to stay in this park for the execution of the National Mall Plan,” said Caroline Cunningham, president of the Trust for the National Mall. “The continuity of leadership is going to be great for us.”
This article appears in the July 15, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.