Man standing at top of mountain

The BIG Outdoors

Edward Keable ’83 feels at home in the small town of Grand Canyon National Park

Deborah Dudley

On April 3, 2020, the National Park Service (NPS) announced Edward Keable ’83 as the new superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA), which encompasses 1.2 million acres and was host to 5.97 million visitors in 2019 alone. 

“The Grand Canyon really is GRAND,” says Keable from his home base on the North Rim of the park, which spans 277 miles in length and averages 10 miles wide and one mile deep. “It is so large it holds five ecosystems broken into four regions: The North Rim, the South Rim, the Inner Canyon, and the Western regions,” he explains.  

“I am definitely an unconventional pick for this job,” Keable continues, fully aware that his appointment to the post was not without controversy, being the first superintendent that did not rise to the post through the Park Service rank. What he has found, however, has been a dedicated community of both internal staff and external friends and partners of the park who don’t really care about how he got the job, but about how they are going to work together. “They have welcomed me warmly and see the value I bring with new perspectives,” says Keable. “It has been a great transition.”

Commissioned through the ROTC program at St. Lawrence, Keable went on to obtain his law degree from the University of Vermont before serving seven years in the U.S. Army JAG Corps. Prior to taking the helm of the Grand Canyon operations, Keable spent 23 years as a career civil servant in the U.S. Department of the Interior, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations, most recently as the assistant solicitor of general law for the Office of the Solicitor, the highest ranking civil service lawyer responsible for managing the Division of General Law, the Office of Ethics, and the legal work of regional and field offices.

Keable’s knowledge of government agencies, combined with the expertise of the park staff in every facet of stewardship, has resulted in a strong team approach to making the Grand Canyon available to millions of visitors while also preserving and protecting it.

“I manage an exceptionally talented and dedicated staff of 350 people who are experts in every job we have in the park,” says Keable. “My job is to lead and manage them,” he adds, “not to do their jobs.” 

The staff includes experts who do everything from interpret geography, history, and culture to scientists who work to study and protect the natural, cultural, and experiential resources including biologists, botanists, paleontologists, archaeologists, and hydrologists. The park staff also includes first responders who protect visitors, employees, and residents including law enforcement officers, emergency management services, and firefighters; maintenance staff who maintain the water and wastewater systems, trails, roads, buildings, and vehicles; and administrative staff who manage the budget, human resources, communications, external relationships, and environmental planning and project management. 

“These groups work together to address challenges in the park,” says Keable. “We are protecting endangered fish and plant species. We are removing feral horses and cattle on the South Rim and an overpopulated herd of bison on the North Rim that are degrading the natural and cultural resources in the park; those animals are being added to existing bison herds in the mid-west through an agreement with the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council. We are planning to address a deferred maintenance backlog of well over $300 million by focusing on projects like replacing our water and wastewater systems and addressing deferred maintenance on our historic district, trails, roads, and housing. We are working together to keep visitors, employees, family residents, and contractors safe during COVID-19. We host annual arts and music festivals in the park and we also have the only remaining K-12 school in the national park system.”

Keable makes it a priority to point out that there were people living and thriving in the park lands long before the first white people visited in 1540, and longer still before the federal government took control with the establishment of the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1897, which led to the establishment of Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 and eventually Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. That history informs the important work that Keable and his team continue today. “We are working with the local affiliated tribes to tell that story as we tell the whole story of this place,” he says. 

What many people do not know is that the GRCA is still a residential community today, essentially a small town within the park about the size of Chazy, New York, where Keable grew up. And being the highest ranking NPS officer, Keable is essentially the mayor. “We are a community here,” he says. “When people come to visit the Grand Canyon, they come into our town.” 

Being part of a small community is familiar to Keable. “I can relate to that responsibility because I know and love small-town life,” he says and credits his mother’s push for his siblings to be outdoors and the leadership skills he gained at St. Lawrence as a Thelmo senator, manager of student activities, and student representative to the Board of Trustees for helping him prepare for this job. 

“St. Lawrence was where I really started to learn how to make decisions, lead people, and get things done,” he says, thinking about how his life has informed his resume. “Hiking into the Canyon is an extension of my childhood experiences. Leading the GRCA is an extension of my experience at St. Lawrence. Protecting it is an extension of the legal work I have done with the Department. This job is a natural fit for who I am, where I am from, and what I have done.”