WELLFLEET — The National Park Service announced on Sept. 22 that Jennifer Flynn, who has been with the NPS for 32 years and who had her first Parks job on Cape Cod, will become the superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore in November.
Current Supt. Brian Carlstrom starts a new job in Denver on Oct. 8, according to NPS spokesperson Linzy French.
Flynn comes to the Seashore after three and a half years at NPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she has been associate director for visitor and resource protection. There, she was responsible for a slew of security and law enforcement-related services, including fire management and the U.S. Park Police, according to a February 2020 press release.
Flynn has had experience putting out more than one kind of fire, it seems. In July 2022, she issued a memo to NPS superintendents and chief rangers describing changes that would have to be made in the Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch, necessary, she wrote, because of the erosion of funding for that program. “Nearly flat budgets,” Flynn wrote, meant the ISB had been unable to fund even cost-of-living increases for staff. They were dealing with “a 45 percent decrease in staffing,” she wrote, paired with “an expansion of 1,692 percent” in responsibility.
The losses and the resulting “streamlined service model,” which would focus the reduced number of investigators on “serious crimes against people” (crimes of violence and where use of force was involved) and let go of “crimes against society” (including property crimes and drug-related investigations), was criticized by the advocacy organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Before her work at headquarters, Flynn spent 10 years as superintendent and deputy superintendent of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. She previously managed the NPS Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy and worked as a park ranger at several national parks across the U.S.
According to the NPS news release, Flynn started out as a temporary employee at the Cape Cod National Seashore. But French offered no details, telling the Independent by email that Flynn “will not be doing interviews until she arrives at the park in mid to late November. Jennifer, I believe, is familiar with the Cape so when she comes in here, she will get to know all the resources that we have here.”
How, exactly, Flynn will be equipped to handle Cape-specific issues, French said, “is a question for her in November.”
Following Carlstrom’s departure, Seashore Deputy Supt. Leslie Reynolds will serve as acting superintendent, French confirmed. Reynolds did not respond to a request for comment.
Flynn will arrive as the Park Service faces criticism over its decision to lease 8 of the 18 dune shacks in the Peaked Hill Bars Historic District under terms that violate the Dune Shacks Historic District Preservation and Use Plan. The leasing contest has been condemned by the Truro and Provincetown select boards and state and federal legislators.
Carlstrom defended the leasing process but largely refused to answer questions about it at a recent appearance before the Provincetown Select Board.
Asked about Flynn’s prospects for navigating the dune shack controversy, French echoed Carlstrom: “I don’t have an answer for you on that. I’d have to get back to you.”
Rich Delaney, former chair of the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission, who was recently appointed to a reconstituted advisory board by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, is looking forward to Flynn’s arrival.
Delaney plans to brief Flynn on the commission’s capacity to serve as a liaison between the Seashore and the towns. The commission was disbanded by the Trump administration in 2018. That the dune shack leasing plan unfolded without the commission’s involvement has been “a major loss,” Delaney said.
“If we had been in operation, we could have been a forum for these ongoing discussions about the dune shacks,” Delaney said. The commission historically “helped advise and resolve difficult issues,” he said, including whether jet skis could be operated in the park and how to sustainably allow off-road vehicles on the beach.
A Reconstituted Commission
The advisory commission, originally authorized in 1961, was created to ensure communication between the Seashore and the six towns within its boundaries. Its members, including representatives from the county and state, make recommendations to the superintendent.
The commission’s work was halted in 2018 and reauthorized in January of this year. Background checks on appointees of the reconstituted commission are in their “last stages,” said Delaney.
Art Autorino, chair of the Eastham Select Board, said that the towns used to have “a great working relationship with the Seashore, but that has changed.” He’s hoping the tide will turn.
“I think one of the most important things for a positive path forward in collaboration with the Seashore is for the towns to feel they have a voice,” said Leslie Sandberg, Provincetown’s alternate on the commission, who is also a member of the town’s select board. The commission, she said, is that voice.
“As soon as Jennifer Flynn arrives,” Delaney said, “I will reach out and give her some background in a briefing on what we, as citizens, believe the benefit of the advisory commission is and encourage her to help get it back up and running as soon as possible.”
Mary-Jo Avellar, Provincetown’s appointee to the commission, is less hopeful about the leadership change.
“There’s been no oversight,” Avellar said, referring to the dune shack situation that she said “mushroomed all out of control” without input from the towns. “They’ve totally, totally disregarded the vision that President Kennedy had in the creation of the Seashore, which was to preserve our history and traditions.”
On Tuesday, Avellar received a letter from Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally appointing her to the reconstituted Advisory Commission.
Autorino thought it was strange that the commission hasn’t met yet. But, he said, Carlstrom’s “leaving is the best thing that could happen for the area. He’s already turned off two towns, and he’s on his way to turn off a third.”
Eastham is experiencing its own conflict with NPS over parking at Nauset Light Beach. In that case, too, the Park is accused of violating a past agreement with the town, rooted in the 1965 deed conveying the beaches from the town to the Seashore.
“If we can’t resolve this with the new superintendent, we will take legal action,” Autorino said. But, he said, there’s hope that Flynn “will be more willing to work with us.”