AZTEC — With pins holding his spine together and reconstructed knees, soft-spoken Larry Turk lumbers slowly along, but that doesn't get in his way.
Turk, familiar to most people as the superintendent of Aztec Ruins and the acting superintendent of Chaco Culture National Park, is on a mission to make the cultural sites he oversees and the surrounding community a better place.
"That's what we're trying to do here, is to increase the number of programs we offer, to always focus on outreach," he said. "The real dividend paid is educating our youth and you can't put a price on that."
Part of that is the Park Service's Call to Action plan to increase the public's appreciation and stewardship of U.S. parks as it nears its 100th year. Turk and his staff have rolled out dozens of projects to answer the call.
Those projects include connecting downtown Aztec to the Ruins with a new pedestrian trail system and walking bridge over the Animas River, providing learning-service efforts in the park with area students, upping classroom visits by interpretation staff from seven to 162 this last academic year, erecting wood post fencing and shade structures designed by Turk who was inspired by the Ruins' architecture, and working with a Cub Scout pack and Youth Conservation Corps to grow vegetables and native plants in the park's demonstration garden.
For a guy somewhat hobbled by injuries sustained while serving the country as an airborne Army Ranger, Turk manages to stay in constant motion.
In 11 years, Turk went from entry-level custodian at South Padre Island National Seashore, Texas, to his current twin superintendent roles.
Not satisfied managing two national parks, Turk serves on four boards -- the Aztec Chamber of Commerce, Aztec trails and Open Space, Aztec Museum, and soon to be chair of the Lodger's Tax Advisory board -- to increase the positive forward motion he envisions for the community.
"I am very driven and I enjoy a challenge, I admit it," he said. "I usually reach my 40 work hours by Wednesday. But I don't wear a watch; time doesn't matter to me. If I wasn't out working, I'd just be sitting at home, so I stay busy."
Turk begins each February working weekends during the remainder of the school year with Aztec High School Junior ROTC cadets whom he employs full-time in the summer. A former Eagle scout, he can be as often found sitting at a conference table or at commission meetings as picking up a shovel and diverting the park's irrigation trenches.
He currently is in negotiations with Bureau of Land Management officials to limit or remove oil and gas leases that surround the park at Chaco.
Noise and air pollution from roads, traffic, drilling, and anything that sullies the pristine park experience for visitors concerns him.
"Today, you can almost go back in time to over 1,000 years ago," Turk said. "To be out there, you can see everything in the sky in sharp focus."
In July, Turk's efforts to designate the park as a "Dark Sky Park" will be secured. The rare honor is given by the International Dark Sky Association, a non-profit that promotes the preservation and protection of night skies across the globe. Chaco will be only the fourth park in the country with the designation.
In March, Turk was honored as Aztec's citizen of the year for his dedication to community improvement. Last year, Turk, who moved to Aztec when he accepted his superintendent position two years ago, was named an official 2012 Old Sorehead for his volunteering work.
Turk quietly defers any acclaim he has received to others.
"I couldn't do any of the things I do without my incredible staff and my awesome wife," he said. "It's not my success. It's the community's. I don't work this much for awards, even though I am very honored (to be recognized)."
Turk comes up with ideas for progress and sees them through. With help from the Conservation Corps workers, he is clearing a dead apple orchard on the west flank of the Ruins, removing invasive species and revegetating the area. He hopes to put in a campground at its south end to further encourage visitors.
For Turk, progress is only possible by collaborating with others and keeping at it every day.
"Everything I do is centered around the community, especially the youth," Turk said. "They're our future. We're going to be passing the torch off to them and I want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to live up to or surpass their expectations."