Grand Canyon National Park’s first openly lesbian superintendent visits Boulder at Conference on World Affairs

The first openly lesbian superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, Chris Lehnertz, came to CU Boulder on Friday. She talked about the future of the National Park Service and her role in fixing ongoing sexual harassment issues in the organization.

Moderated by Lori Bergen, founding dean of CU’s College of Media, Communication and Information, Lehnertz’s talk, titled “An Insider’s Scoop on America’s National Parks,” was part of this year’s Conference on World Affairs at CU.

During the event, Lehnertz talked about park management, outreach and diversity efforts. She spoke openly about a sexual harassment scandal between park employees that came to light shortly before she was hired. The ensuing investigation uncovered a pattern of sexual harassment going back 15 years. In the wake of that investigation, Lehnertz’s main goal as superintendent is “to build a respectful and inclusive workplace.”

“I just don’t think that we would have had 15 years of hostile workplace and sexual harassment if we had more women in management and leadership positions,” she said.

Lehnertz is the first female superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park and an out lesbian. In an interview after her talk, she said, “I joined the NPS ten years ago, and in every job here, I’ve been the first woman to have that job, which is crazy in today’s day in age.”

Lehnertz said girls need to be welcomed into STEM programs and leadership roles at an early age in order to change the culture.

Lehnertz has been superintendent of the park since September. Before taking the position, she oversaw the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. She grew up in Colorado and said spending time with her father, a geologist, in the state’s wilderness areas and natural parks inspired her love of nature. Lehnertz graduated from CU Boulder in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. She said that it is exciting to see how much new scientific knowledge has been discovered since she was in college and encouraged current students to take advantage of their time at CU.

Another of Lehnertz’s goals is to reach out to the 11 Native American tribes living near the Grand Canyon, an effort that she said is going well. While the Grand Canyon National Park has always had a good relationship with the tribes, under Lehnertz, they have more autonomy to educate park visitors about their culture.

Despite fears over federal agencies losing funding under President Donald Trump’s administration, Lehnertz said she is optimistic that politicians on both sides of the aisle will recognize the importance of the national parks. Multiple audience members asked what they could do to support the nation’s parks, and she replied that they could donate to national or local charity organizations that support them or volunteer at one of the parks.

Lehnertz said students interested in jobs in the National Park Services should study as much science as they can. She also encouraged college students from all disciplines to take science classes in order to learn more about the world around them.

“Science explains the world,” Lehnertz said. “It makes you a better citizen, a better voter, a better mom, because you can explain the world around you and explain your own curiosity.”

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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