By Kayla Benjamin
After leading the agency as acting superintendent since April, Angela Crenshaw officially became the Maryland Park Service’s first Black woman director on Nov. 6. She told The Informer that she plans to give 137% to the role: 87% heart, 13% hair, and 37% grit and determination.
“I wanted it to be that awkward 137% because it shows that I thought about it, and that number matters — that grit and determination comes from knowing exactly where I come from,” she said. “I think it would blow my ancestors’ minds to think that I am the full-time director of the Maryland Park Service.”
Crenshaw takes on the position after a decade with the park service, where she first began as a park ranger at Elk Neck State Park in 2013. She helped get the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park up and running, serving as assistant manager in 2017, the same year it opened.
While there, she created a Junior Rangers program, which allows kids to earn a badge for completing a booklet of activities about Tubman’s story and being officially sworn in by a park ranger. Crenshaw said the program is one of her proudest accomplishments so far.
“We’ve had over 15,000 Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Junior Rangers, and they [each] have a personal experience with Harriet Tubman and then of course with a park ranger,” she said. “And it warms my heart to see how it has connected people with our history.”
Plans for Change
Crenshaw takes the reins during a turbulent time for the agency. Earlier this year, Michael J. Browning, then manager of Gunpowder Falls State Park, was convicted of a fourth-degree sexual offense after two former park employees — whose on-site lodging he had helped secure — accused him of rape.
Though Browning was acquitted on the most serious of the charges, a Baltimore Banner investigation revealed a widespread lack of oversight and toxic workplace culture at the park service. Many park employees said they had submitted reports about harassment to higher-ups and saw nothing done about it. Browning, who couldn’t be fired because of his status as a law enforcement officer, retired in December. Several other top leaders, including the former head of the agency, were terminated.
In recent months, Crenshaw has worked to break down the “toxic culture of the old boys club” in her role as acting superintendent (the top job at the Maryland Park Service used to be “superintendent,” but the title is now “director”). She and Josh Kurtz, Maryland secretary of natural resources, held town halls to hear from employees about their experience.
Crenshaw said she plans to make systemic changes, including adding more supervisory positions and breaking down massive park complexes into smaller ones. That move, she said, would both improve oversight and provide more opportunities for career growth within the agency.
In her most recent role managing Susquehanna, Rocks and Palmer State Parks, Crenshaw oversaw more than 4,000 acres of parkland.
“I think having so much land under so few people allows for a lot of freedom,” she said. “That much freedom comes at a cost, and I think we saw that when everything broke a little over a year ago.”
The Maryland Park Service now includes more than 140,000 acres, looked after by around 260 full-time employees and 600 seasonal workers. However, the state legislature last year passed the Great Maryland Outdoors Act, which provides much-needed funding and 100 new full-time positions for the agency.
“We’ve not had a substantial increase in staff in over 30 years, but we’ve had a substantial increase in the amount of land that we manage,” Crenshaw said. “We’ve been doing more with less my entire park service career, and much longer than that — and I’m ready for us to do more with more.”
Diverse Park Service and Diverse Park Stories
Crenshaw, who remains one of only a few Black park rangers in the state, also said that she wants to improve diversity “across races and abilities” in the park service’s hiring. She identified two strategies: making the government application process more accessible and providing more people with nature-based opportunities so that they can “feel comfortable in the woods.”
“This isn’t easy — it is a struggle to stand up and put on a uniform and put on a smile and to fight every day not just for natural resources, but for basic rights, and for people to feel comfortable in these outdoors,” she said. “But I think it is more than worth the effort.”
As acting superintendent, Crenshaw oversaw the Maryland Park Service’s first Pride month celebration and coordinated a hiking and kayaking tour with members of the organization Outdoor Afro in honor of Juneteenth.
In addition to hiring a more diverse workforce, Crenshaw said she wants to prioritize telling more types of stories within Maryland’s parks.
“I also want to highlight different aspects of history,” she said. “Of course, we have Harriet Tubman, we have a few other African American parks, but we don’t have parks that tell the story of the LGBTQI+ community. We don’t have parks that tell the story of the blind, the deaf community in Maryland. … So I think it would be amazing to tell those stories.”