March 25, 2003 – V.I. National Park Superintendent John King will be heading to a new assignment as superintendent at Big Bend National Park in Texas on May 18.
King, 53, who has been on St. John for nearly two and a half years, said he didn't apply for the Texas position, but neither did he turn it down when the National Park Service offered it to him.
He said he worked at Big Bend National Park as a division chief from 1979 to 1982. "It's one of my all-time favorites," he said.
The park occupies more than 800,000 acres of desert and mountains along the Rio Grande on the border of West Texas with Mexico. It takes its name from the river — which makes a sharp turn where the park lies.
King said during an interview shortly after his arrival on St. John in 2000 that he did not know how long he would remain on the island, but he expected it would be for "some years."
The fact that he is leaving after two and a half does not surprise Joe Kessler, president of the Friends of the V.I. National Park. Kessler said that King was so "beat up and abused" by some members of the community on some issues that his departure is understandable.
"Superintendents come in, get chewed up and spit out, and go off to someplace calmer," Kessler said.
King said no one has been named to succeed him as V.I. National Park superintendent. The job will be advertised, he said, and an interim superintendent will be appointed to serve until the National Park Service picks a permanent replacement.
Always diplomatic, King said that he has enjoyed his time in the territory. "It's really been fun, but there's been some headaches along the way," he said.
He worked diligently to bring the park in line with other national parks across the country in terms of management. Kessler credits him with a high degree of success: "It's stopped being such a backwater and banana republic park," he said, crediting King for the change.
King presided over some difficult times for park-community relations, including the reluctance of St. John taxi drivers and associations to pay an annual fee for a commercial services permit required of companies operating in the park.
After nearly a year of foot dragging and complaints on the part of the taxi industry, U.S. District Judge Thomas K. Moore ruled last September that the park had the right to require permits of the taxi drivers. While grumbles are still heard, the drivers have permits today.
Kessler credited King with opening dialogue with the community on various issues and expressed hope that his successor will have as much willingness to deal with such sticky issues.
Indeed, King said he sees his efforts at letting people have their say on park issues has been a highlight of his time spent on St. John. "I tried to make sure we don't manage the park in a vacuum," he said.
He also is credited with improving morale among park staff.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley said that he and King have had a good relationship. "I could tell him whatever was on my mind," Harley said.
Now, Harley said, he's worried that with King's imminent departure, negotiations might stall on exchanging land owned by the V.I. government for federal land on St. John to be used as the site for a school.
Harley also said that the park and the Administrator's Office developed a working relationship, thanks to King. He said that King would forward items such as federal job openings to Harley's office for posting.
"He's going to be missed," Harley said.

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