I sat down on March 10 with Ed Clark, the new superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park and the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Here are a few questions and answers that didn’t make it into the news article.
— Jenni Wentz, Evening Sun reporter
Q: I guess to start off, can you tell me a little about your background and how you ended up in Gettysburg?
Clark: I started volunteering with the National Parks Service in 1986, and my first paid job (with the Park Service) was in 1987. I really started off with a completely different set of career goals. Like so many of us in the National Parks Service, I had an affinity for history and nature and out-of-doors, and it only takes a little bit of exposure for the bug to bite most of us. That volunteer opportunity (in 1986) was really kind of that life-altering experience… I worked summer jobs my entire time through college doing a variety of things, whether that (was) interpretive programs, working in campgrounds…
I took a semester off from college to attend a seasonal law enforcement academy… I came out and got my permanent job in law enforcement. I spent a good portion of my career in ranger activities — law enforcement, emergency medicine, search and rescue, firefighting, all that kind of stuff — but I really expanded my skill-sets to bring in a lot of broader park management experiences…
I spent 16 years in the Blue Ridge Parkway and then I went up to Shenandoah National Park where I had a very eclectic job working on lands, working as a subject matter expert on law and policy… I spent about five years there. I spent a little time in D.C. managing the National Heritage Area program. I had a great experience in that program… From there, I got my first superintendency at Manassas, and I was there for about six years, I guess, and now I’m here in Gettysburg…
The Park Service is so diverse in what we do. It’s everything from the Grand Canyon to presidential homes… to battlefields like (Gettysburg). So I’ve been saying only in the National Park Service would the take a biologist — my degree is in biology — give him a gun to carry the bulk of his career and then give (him) historical parks to manage.
Q: Why did you decide to make that move to Gettysburg?
A: That’s an easy and a hard question all in one. First, it’s Gettysburg, and having worked at a Civil War park (Manassas) for six years, certainly the subject matter has always interested me. I certainly grew up very aware of Civil War history growing up in Virginia… I dearly looked forward to all of this historic trips and Civil War trips to museums, particularly around Virginia but also more broadly across the region. I have many fond memories of going to battlefields, especially here at Gettysburg. As most good Virginians, I know my Civil War roots and had several ancestors who fought here…
Then, from a professional level… all units of the Park Service are special, but I think Gettysburg is especially so, and I think, particularly of the historic parks, it is the cream of the crop. It is certainly well known internationally and it is a very iconic place, from the military history side to the political side with the Gettysburg Address to the reconciliation side… All of those things professionally just have a great interest to me. The opportunity presented itself, and it was truly just one of those dream opportunities, and I’m just so fortunate to have it.
Q: What has your first month here been like? Can you walk me through that?
A: I will say one of the things overwhelmingly has been the response from the community and how welcoming this place has been to me and my family. Universally, I’ve been overwhelmed both at the attendance at some events I’ve been at and just generally the conversations that I’ve had with neighbors and visitors alike… You can tell this place has a very substantial role in this community and how deeply everyone is interested and how strongly they feel about Gettysburg battlefields. That’s really, frankly, my first impression.
At many of these events, I am swarmed by people looking to speak with me, and it’s been very flattering. But I’m not sure it’s necessarily that they want to meet Ed Clark; it’s just they’re excited about a new superintendent at the park, and they’re very eager to meet him and work with him.
Q: Are you living in Gettysburg now?
A: If I had a quarter for every time I was asked that question I could probably retire by now. When I worked at Manassas, which is a two-hour drive from here, we lived in northern Loudoun County (Virginia). My wife is a school teacher and my kids are in school. My wife has a great job, my kids are in high school and my commute to Gettysburg has only been an extra 15 to 20 minutes than what it was to Manassas. But to further compound that… I’m actually four miles shy of being eligible for a government move. So, in reality, the idea of right now — with taking them out of high school, my wife giving up her job, me having to foot the whole move on my own — to move to make a difference of 15 minutes in my commute just doesn’t seem worth it.
In the short-term, I’m actually probably going to do something here on the battlefield. We have a lot of houses, and I’m looking to see if one of those might make the most sense. More long-term — not to give too many family secrets away — I made a commitment to my family when we moved to Loudoun County that I wouldn’t move until they were out of high school. And they were very strongly worded when they reminded me of that commitment when I got this job.
But after coming up to that first event in January (former Superintendent Bob Kirby‘s going away party), my youngest son in particular and my wife were so welcomed, and their first experience with the community of Gettysburg was such that they were both on the way home, like, “Maybe we should start looking at some places in Gettysburg. Maybe we should move up here.” So the place certainly made an impression on my family.
In the near-term, I’m going to maintain that commute and that commitment to my family, but in the longer term, I think I might really like to be up in this neck of the woods.
For more information about Ed Clark and his plans for the Gettysburg parks, check out the original Evening Sun news article.