The Psychology Of Nature & Crisis Management.




Former Florida State Park & NPS Director Discusses Crisis Managment & The Balance Of Transition

Fran P. Mainella [Courtesy/Fran P. Mainella] 

Fran P. Mainella is a woman of firsts but above all she is an impassioned thinker and activist. She sets goals and gets them done but also distinctively understands the importance of listening and learning from others. Because of these traits and many others, Maniella rose through the ranks and became Florida State Park Director in the late 80s and supervised the recovery from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which is no small feat. In 2001, she was appointed Director of the National Park Service [NPS] by President Bush becoming the first woman to take that position. After retiring from that position in 2006, she has subsequently continued her efforts to fascilliate the importance of the outdoors as a visiting scholar at Clemson University where is Co-Chair of the US Play Coalition. In this 2nd part of a 3 part interview, Maniella sat down with The Buzz at the NASPD Annual Conference to discuss the psychology of nature and crisis management.

The Buzz: Can you talk about the psychology of the outdoors, the psychology of nature -- because you're right. [Being outdoors] increases cognitive skill, problem-solving, all these kinds of things. Can you talk about that because the psychology of it is so important as well as the psychology of the outdoors.

Fran Mainella: You're hitting right on it. One of the most important aspects of play, allowing you to play, is your development of cognitive skills, which is decision-making, imagination, and creativity. And when those things aren't there -- I can tell you, had I not had play in my life, I never would've been National Park Service Director. Because a woman wasn't supposed to be director of the National Park Service. I wouldn't have had the courage. The US Play Coalition focuses not just on children, but on adults. I just did an interview with AARP on that, on the importance that play has in the lives of all of us, not just when we're children, but all the way through as we're older.

The Buzz: Now going from that, the one thing that I love seeing -- because you were talking about "the play" --  look, when we were just sitting at the State Park Directors Meeting, it was like a bunch of kids around the table with a love for the outdoors. You could see Dominic [Bravo, of Wyoming] when he was a kid. You could see the guy from Wisconsin that just came in. You could see his love as a kid. Could you talk about that transition because, making that transition, even to the state park director in Florida, was probably a very conscious decision, but something that maybe you had to work towards.

FM: Well, when I started as a child back in Connecticut, coming home from school, going out to play, I certainly never had it as my goal that I was going to be state park director for Florida. Things would lead one to another. I started as a summer playground counselor, working my way through college and I taught school in Connecticut but was also working part-time for Park and Recreation. Then when I moved to Florida, I went full-time into Park and Recreation but it was the fact that those opportunities [came about], because of a love and a passion, [and] you kind of go that direction. Before I knew it, I was a full-time Park and Recreation professional. From there, never did I see myself even being state park director for Florida. One thing leads to another and, as you find more opportunity to help others but also help that whole effort of outdoor play and our parks and also protecting the resources as well as enjoying them, you find that opportunity. I just was very lucky but I also had the courage. I do speeches on leadership, and courage is one of the key aspects. Courage is to do something that you might not always succeed at in a lot of ways…doing something that maybe [might] cause you to move or cause you to be inconvenienced. But you have to have that courage to do that and it also means you have a courage to possibly fail. I don't like to fail so I try to avoid it whenever possible, but I always have that courage. You also work with your connections which is, again, your partnership, your network. I have a very large network but I'm always there for others. I mentor people all the time.

The Buzz: That my next thought to you…about mentoring, because, when you stood up inside the State Park Directors Meeting, you made that point about, "You guys come talk to me. My door is always open." And that is so important because with a lot of state and federal restrictions, you can feel like you're almost in a corner. And you have to be confident in your own way to get through that. What's the most important thing to remember as a mentor…not necessarily as a leader, but as a mentor?

FM: I think it's important that we all have a responsibility, particularly if we have had some success in life, to help others. Because somewhere along the line, I know I did…I accepted help from others, and those people kind of took me under their wing. Whether they viewed themselves as a mentor or not, I sort of will look back at it and say that they were. But I think it's important for me, particularly as a first woman in so many things, to reach out to women. But I also reach out to men and others that are -- we had a speaker that currently is superintendent of the Tetons National Park. He was somebody I mentored, and because I saw him --- he was Hispanic and not had an opportunity to maybe move in certain areas, I helped open some doors that made it so he could --- he still had to do it himself, but I opened some doors. And I think we all have a responsibility to do that, and I find I grow every time I'm mentoring someone else. Linda, who eventually is going to be president of NASPD, is someone I have reached out to, to help. And there's many others through the years that I'm always ready to help --- but just as I'm ready to help, I'm never hesitant to ask others for help if I need it. And that took courage too because some people think that's a weakness. It's actually a strength.

Fran Mainella Speaking At The Clemson University Conference Center & Inn [Courtesy/Fran P. Mainella]

The Buzz: That's the thing. You have to think "How much do I vet?" because A: you have to vet the information, but B: you have to select using your own reconnaissance about what you should take to heart and what you should use as your own…

FM: Right. Exactly, exactly. And again, it's all about putting your own ego aside and putting it [aside] for the betterment of your cause that you're working for and your passion. When you see the parks, when you see people out in nature, there is so much passion. As a result, we need to help each other. But I help those that aren't necessarily linked to nature too just because they are wanting to be more than they currently are, and I think it's a responsibility that we all have.

The Buzz: One of the things I like, especially you coming into Florida during that time period in the late 80s and through the 90s, it's interesting because you had to look at both conservation but also the fact that the whole way people were vacationing was changing. Then, of course, you went to the National Park Service. But with Florida, it seemed like an interesting sort of a Petri dish, almost a laboratory for you to try things. Can you sort of talk a little bit about that,and  some of the problem solving that went into it?

FM: Well, as I came in-- I became Director of Florida State Parks in 1989. And again, I was the first woman to head that system. When I came in, in all honesty, people weren't sure what to make of me coming in…my employees. Because here I'm touting partnerships, and there was a attitude by many that the best parks had no people in them because that meant more work for the employees. So here I am touting not only visitation increases, but also respectful of the resource, and also working with other state parks themselves…working with local government, working with national parks…that all takes extra time and energy. But what I was able to show [it can be done], and it actually took a crisis. Hurricane Andrew hit us in 1992. Up until that time I had --- and I wasn't shy about it. I was already setting up friends groups and mechanisms for partnerships to make it easier for those things to form. My dream was to have a statewide "Friends of Florida State Parks". But one of the things is, you can't just force that to happen. It has to come from--

The Buzz: Organically.

FM: …the emotions of people. Well, it took Hurricane Andrew hitting, which in Florida was very devastating. And it resulted in some of my my major revenue-producing parks like Cape Florida, and many others being closed for quite a long time. Some were going to be closed for a year or more. Cape Florida was flattened, basically. So that was "crisis time", and at the same time, the economy was slow. It looked like we were going to have to close parks in order to keep ourselves going. It was not my desire to do that, but I'll be honest with you…that negative…the fact that we might have to close 35 state parks and lay off 250 people…the Friends group came about because the citizens were not going to want to hear that [these parks were closing]…and they rallied. So through that partnership, and through a negative situation, it started turning, helping me form a positive in the sense of forming that "Friends of Florida State Parks". As a result, they were able to go to the state legislature even more than I [could]. I was a factual person, but they were voters, and they were able to say emotionally, "I don't want that park closed. I need that park more than ever after Hurricane Andrew hitting me and what damage it has done." And so as a result of that [action] we didn't close any parks and, in the end, I didn't have to lay off anyone.

The Buzz: And what kind of time frame were you taking about?

FM: Andrew hit us in August of '92. These notices about closing parks came in December '92. And by the end of-- our state legislature in Florida meets usually in March. February-March or March and April, I can't remember what it was…anyway, by the time we finished, they even called a special session in the early part of '93 and it meant that we did not have to close those parks. We certainly had to change [certain elements]. We reduced sizes and things. We made changes. But that was the start of the greatest partnership --- so my dream came true because of a negative situation. But I turned a negative to a positive and as a result, our employees began to appreciate the volunteers and our partners more because there just wasn't enough --- there was too much work to do and not enough people to do it so they realized that this was actually a help. And the attitude of the employee also changed. And, as a result, I think it led to us being voted, in 1999, the best state park system in the country.

Go To Part III Of Interview


Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

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