Meet Debbie Moses, Glen Canyon Conservancy’s new executive director

Glen Canyon Conservancy Executive Director Debbie Moses outside the GCC Flagship Store in Page.

Debbie Moses, the new executive director of Glen Canyon Conservancy (GCC), grew up in the American South – South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama – but doesn’t remember being much of an outdoorsy person when she was younger.

“My parents weren’t national park people. I didn’t have that experience,” she said. 

It wasn’t until after Moses went to school at Baylor University in Texas to study communications that she got the urge to start spending time in more natural surroundings.

“After college, and I still can’t remember how I came up with this idea, but I wanted to go to the Grand Canyon,” Moses told the Chronicle. “My job during the summer of 1991 was working at the gas station that was on the South Rim of Grand Canyon. Working there and being introduced to national parks and hiking just opened up a whole new love for me during that summer.”

Moses later returned to Baylor University for graduate school, where she continued studying communications but steered her academic focus toward national parks, with the hope of working for public lands in the future.  

After graduation, she made her way to Rapid City, South Dakota, and worked a few marketing jobs before landing a position in 2003 as publications manager for the Mount Rushmore Society. Like GCC, Mount Rushmore Society is a “friends organization” that works in partnership with federal agencies like the National Park Service to preserve, promote and enhance public lands.

Moses worked for the society for 20 years, with her job expanding over time to include marketing, event planning and other responsibilities. Five years ago, she was appointed chief operation officer, and so helped with the facilities and overall operations. 

“Working in public lands has been my career for 20 years,” Moses said. She also had six kids as part of her family while living in South Dakota, and with the youngest graduating from high school in May of this year, she decided it was time to make a change, broaden her horizons and start looking for work at another organization in need of an executive director. 

That’s when she saw the posting for the job at GCC. Over the years, she had retained a fondness for the area around the Grand Canyon, and every five years or so had returned to hike the canyon with her family, including a rim-to-rim adventure with her kids. So, she applied and got the GCC job. She arrived in Page in February.

“It’s sort of coming back to an area that awakened my love for the national park system in general. It’s a good place to be,” Moses said. “It’s definitely a new adventure and a challenge for me. I’m happy to be here.”

Moses was immediately impressed by the “wonderful job” GCC staff had done in keeping operations going during their five months without an executive director, after Martin Stamat left the position in September of last year.  

Moses was also in awe of the staff’s knowledge of the region and the role they play in providing information to visitors. 

“I’m amazed by what all of our retail staff know. They have gotten training, but a lot of them have been in this area a long time, so they intrinsically learn that information to be able to give to others,” she said. “To me, that is a very significant, tangible way that people supporting Glen Canyon Conservancy help the whole area. This is really how we give back to our community, to our public lands agencies, is providing that visitor information.”

At the Carl Hayden Visitor Center, for example, GCC provides staff to sit at the ranger desk – sometimes by themselves, sometimes with a ranger – in order to provide much-needed visitor and safety information. Likewise, there isn’t always a ranger present at the Navajo Bridge Visitor Center, so the GCC staff member working at the gift shop is often the first face that visitors see and the first person they ask for local information. 

“Especially at our Bureau of Land Management sites, we have an agreement with BLM to staff those sites. Sometimes there might not be a BLM representative, and the only way the building is open is because of us,” Moses said. 

This points toward one of the biggest differences between working at Mount Rushmore Society compared with GCC.

“At Mount Rushmore Society, we dealt with one park. You drove up, you saw Mount Rushmore, and that’s it. And we dealt with one agency, the National Park Service,” Moses said. 

“Here, we have 10 locations over 6,000 square miles. It’s certainly a journey. You can’t even visit all our stores in the whole Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in one day. And we’re dealing with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and we also work with the U.S. Forest Service.”

One of the main priorities for Moses as she settles into the executive director role is continuing the recovery from the COVID pandemic. On one level, this means being able to staff all 10 GCC stores consistently so they can be open for visitors.   

It also means putting operations in place so that the GCC is still here many, many years from now and can provide greater support to NPS, BLM and other partner agencies.  

“We have focused on retail sales for years, and we need to expand beyond that to become a fundraising organization so that we are able to support our partners in greater ways,” Moses said. 

“We already support our partners by giving visitor services information, but if our partners come to us and ask us for additional funds for wayside exhibits or a new museum or visitor center, we would like to be able to provide that to them. It’s organizations like ours that raise money in a variety of ways to be able to fulfil that need that the federal government doesn’t. A lot of people think that everything in a national park or BLM site is provided or funded by the federal government, but there are some holes there, and that’s where an organization like Glen Canyon Conservancy fills in the gaps.”

Another immediate priority is reopening the Powell Museum and Archives, which has been closed for renovation since 2019. The aim is to open in sometime this summer, depending on efforts to attract local businesses to sponsor the exhibits. 

In the meantime, Moses has been visiting all the GCC locations and, in her spare time, hiking the local trails – which ties in with her passion for working for public lands.    

“I have this love of the outdoors. I can see when visitors come and they also want to give back to an area that has meant something to them, whether it’s a family vacation or they feel like they are intrinsically involved in the environment,” she said. “At GCC, we can help them preserve that love for the land. We can be that bridge to help the NPS or BLM or BOR be able to provide access to visitors to be able to enjoy our lands.”

Moses added that she was looking forward to learning more about the region, and she reiterated how impressed she is with the staff that she works with at GCC.

“They have a great passion for this area, which can be seen from how helpful they are to visitors,” she said. “A lot of time they help visitors, and it doesn’t have to do with a sale. They are giving their time and knowledge to people because they love this area. I’ve just been impressed by their passion and time that they give. I’m very proud to be part of this organization.”

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