AZTEC — Larry Turk, Aztec Ruins National Monument superintendent since 2011, has just doubled his duties.
Earlier this month, Turk, a 14-year veteran of the National Park Service, was named the new superintendent of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Since January, Turk served as interim Chaco superintendent, which gave him nearly a year of practice dividing his time between the two parks, both designated as World Heritage sites in 1987.
Turk began his career in the parks service in 1999 at Hovenweep National Monument, in Cortez, Colo., where he started as a maintenance worker before becoming a work supervisor and then facility manager at Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monument, in Utah. He was facility manager at Padre Island National Seashore until he took the reins at Aztec Ruins.
Turk will officially assume his dual role today.
"Larry's facilities and management experience and long ties to the cultural and natural resources of the Southwest make him very well suited for his new duties as Superintendent at Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument," said National Parks Service Regional Director Colin Campbell.
Turk now manages a combined budget of $3.2 million and oversees more than 50 staff members.
He insists the new assignment is not out of the ordinary, nor a promotion.
"There are superintendents who manage several parks -- that's not uncommon," he said. "And I did not get a pay raise. The opportunity to manage two sites -- one of three (including Mesa Verde National Park, in Colo.) -- that visitors to the Four Corners can visit within a couple hours drive, is humbling."
One of Turk's accomplishments this year was seeing Chaco recognized as "International Dark Sky Park." The honor is bestowed on places in the country and around the world that still afford visitors an optimal chance to stargaze without the interference of light pollution. Chaco is only the fourth unit in the National Park System to earn the International Dark-Sky Association designation. The park was given the association's Gold-tier level designation, advertising Chaco as one of the best places in the country to experience and enjoy natural darkness, much like the Chaco residents of a thousand years ago.
"It's our responsibility, now that we have that designation. And part of our effort to honor that is to promote education, to reach out to our youth so that they have an appreciation for ... these special places now and in the future," Turk said.
Turk has also pushed for greater engagement and visitation rates among students. As part of the National Park system's "Call to Action" initiative, which seeks to promote increased stewardship and engagement with national parks in the 21st century.
"When I got here in 2011, our rangers went to seven classrooms for presentation and interactive visits," Turk said. "Last year, we went into 162 classrooms. That's a huge leap forward. I am very proud of our staff for taking on that responsibility. After all, our children are the future of our community."
Turk, an Army veteran and 2008 parks service Mid-level Management Development program graduate, rises every day at 4:30 a.m. and arrives at his office an hour later.
"It's an honor to ... do my job," Turk said. "I am very lucky. I have the responsibility of protecting ... our national treasures. I get to go to work every day at places where people dream of taking their vacations."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.