Government lawyer named as new Grand Canyon park leader

A veteran lawyer for the U.S. Interior Department has been appointed as the new superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. -- A veteran lawyer for the federal government has been selected to oversee Grand Canyon National Park — a rare appointment of someone who did not move up through the ranks of the National Park Service.

Edward Keable currently serves as the assistant solicitor of general law for the Interior Department's Office of the Solicitor. He is expected to assume his new post as Grand Canyon superintendent in the next 60 days, the Park Service announced Friday.

Keable replaces Christine Lehnertz, who resigned as the park’s superintendent in early 2019 after being cleared of allegations she created a hostile workplace. Others have filled the role temporarily.

Keable said he has long regarded the Grand Canyon, which gets about 6 million visitors a year, as “the most beautiful place on Earth.” It has been closed since Wednesday because of the coronavirus outbreak.

David Vela, the Park Service's deputy director, said Keable will bring “excellent leadership skills and passion for our nation's public lands” to his new role as superintendent.

“His experience at the Department of the Interior also provides a broader perspective that will be an enormous benefit to the park, employees, and visitors,” Vela said in a statement.

Keable has been in his current job since 2012 and has worked in the Office of the Solicitor for 23 years and for the federal government for a total of 30 years, the Park Service said.

Groups including the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Center for Western Priorities questioned whether Keable is qualified to be superintendent and whether he could put the park above political agendas.

“Mr. Keable’s selection sets a terrible precedent and robs the National Park Service career workforce, who have decades of expertise working in national parks, of opportunities to lead the agency in senior superintendent posts,” said Phil Francis, the chair of the coalition, said in a statement.

The Grand Canyon typically is the second-busiest national park in the country behind Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The last few Grand Canyon superintendents worked for the Park Service before taking on the leadership role.

Steve Martin, who led the park from 2007 to 2011, said Keable’s appointment was surprising and concerning.

The park faces a backlog of maintenance projects, including replacing a water pipeline that frequently breaks. Outside the park, developers have proposed pumped storage facilities, a resort, RV park and other lodging. Mining companies also are pushing the federal government to open the door to extract uranium.

“It takes a tremendous amount of operational understanding to keep track of everything in a park like that,” Martin said. “It takes a deep appreciation of the resources as well, and experience, having a background of being out in the field and working with the communities and the people who are both in the park, coming to the park and surrounding the park.

“On the other hand, we have to give everybody a chance,” he said.