WELLFLEET — Jennifer Flynn, whose 32-year career with the National Park Service began on Cape Cod and has since taken her to canyons, coasts, historic sites, and headquarters nationwide, has landed back where she began, now in a managerial role. Her first official day as superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore was Nov. 28.
In a Nov. 29 interview, Flynn talked about her management style. “In-person and direct communication is the most effective,” she said. “I’m not a fan of managing from my office.”
Being office-bound hasn’t often been an option for Flynn anyhow. She started at the Seashore in 1991, the summer before her junior year at Mount Holyoke College, and returned each year through 1996. During that period, she worked at the Race Point Ranger Station and drove the dunes as a law enforcement and oversands ranger.
Flynn anticipates her role here being not so different from her job at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where she was superintendent from 2017 to 2020. While she’s enjoyed a career specializing in emergency services, “I was intentional about coming back to a park,” Flynn said. “I like the diversity of the work as a park superintendent.”
Flynn has returned to Cape Cod every year for vacation since her 1990s Seashore years, she said.
Her work with the NPS took her west as an emergency dispatcher at Yosemite National Park and at the park jail there. She then honed her experience as a law enforcement ranger at Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway before being relocated to the Grand Canyon.
There, Flynn worked “the most adrenaline junkie job in the National Park Service.” She performed “every kind of search and rescue that we do,” she said, venturing into back country on the ground as well as by helicopter, conducting rescue missions as a flight medic.
Flynn had her two oldest children in those years and found that balancing parenthood and emergency medical response work required a shift. That’s when she went to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia and served as chief ranger. She has also managed basic training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.
Flynn’s most recent job was in Washington, where she managed the NPS emergency services portfolio — “basically, anything that dealt with life and safety,” she said.
Through all her moves, the Cape Cod National Seashore has held a special significance for her. “The Cape is where I met the National Park Service,” Flynn said. “I am incredibly grateful that at 20 years old I figured out where I fit.”
According to NPS’s Linzy French, the Seashore superintendent oversees 55 year-round employees and, as of this year, 110 seasonal employees. The superintendent also manages communication with the six towns in the Seashore’s jurisdiction — the four outermost towns as well as Orleans and Chatham.
Flynn’s predecessor, Brian Carlstrom, left the superintendent job here in early October for a post in Denver as deputy regional director of the Park Service’s Intermountain Region. Leslie Reynolds was acting superintendent before Flynn’s arrival.
During Carlstrom’s final few months on the job, the Seashore was criticized for straying from its agreement under the Dune Shacks Historic District Preservation and Use Plan regarding how the shacks would be leased.
Flynn says communication with the public and towns in her jurisdiction is important, but she declined to comment specifically on the dune shacks: “As long as I was in D.C., I was committed to being present and finishing my work there, and I just haven’t gotten up to speed on that issue here yet,” she said.
Once she is, she said, “My commitment to the community is we will be as transparent as we possibly can be.” She added, “I think that’s just how we’re going to have to earn trust.”
Otherwise, she said, “I think part of why folks get frustrated with government in general is that it all seems very arbitrary.”
As for specific goals, Flynn said it’s too early for that. “I haven’t come in with a preconceived idea about where I want to be in 12 months,” she said. “That needs to come in meeting with the towns and talking to the park leadership team and understanding the landscape we’re in.”
Flynn spent her first couple of days on the job getting acquainted with staff at an all-employee meeting and reviewing municipal government directories. She said she was looking forward to a winter of meeting with town boards to “have conversations about what’s important to the towns and how the Seashore can support those objectives.” A first meeting was set for Dec. 5 with the Wellfleet Select Board.
Flynn said she plans to reach out to Rich Delaney this week. Delaney, executive director of the Center for Coastal Studies, chairs the newly reconstituted National Seashore Advisory Commission. Flynn said she expects the commission will be meeting again by early February.
Flynn’s two eldest children are grown now, and she has a high schooler who’s finishing up the semester in Virginia and will move here over the holidays. Her husband retired before she took her last job in D.C., and her parents both live in Western Massachusetts, where she grew up.
“I’m really looking forward to being part of this community again,” Flynn said. “It is in every way a homecoming for me.”