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Former NPS director dies from COVID-19

The Everhardt family. Back row: Phil Everhardt, Gary Everhardt. Front row: Karen Everhardt, Nancy Everhardt.  The Everhardt family. Back row: Phil Everhardt, Gary Everhardt. Front row: Karen Everhardt, Nancy Everhardt. NPS photo

Former National Park Service Director Gary Everhardt passed away on Sunday, Dec. 27, following a battle with COVID-19 and just days after his beloved wife, Nancy died on Dec. 23. He was 86 years old.

“Our deepest condolences go out to Gary's loved ones, friends and all whose lives he touched through his service and mentorship,” NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge said. “Gary had a profound impact and lasting legacy on America’s National Parks. His dedication to the National Park Service mission and service to the American public will be remembered for years to come.” 

Everhardt was born on July 8, 1934 in Lenoir, North Carolina. He graduated from North Carolina State University in 1957 with a degree in civil engineering. Following his graduation, Everhardt began his NPS career as an engineer rising through the ranks to become superintendent of Grand Teton National Park in 1972.  

He was appointed as the 9th director of the National Park Service by President Gerald Ford in January 1975 and served through the end of the Ford Administration. As director, Everhardt led America’s Bicentennial planning and celebration, doubled the acreage of land protected as part of the National Park System adding over 30 million acres, primarily in Alaska, and oversaw significant advancements in interpretive programming and visitor services.  

Under Everhardt’s leadership, NPS also welcomed many firsts: first national symposium on urban recreation; the first national conference on scientific research; the first Native crafts sales program in the parks; and the first international park publication, PARKS. 

After serving as director, Everhardt returned to the field as the superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1977, serving for 23 years until his retirement in 2000. At Blue Ridge Parkway, Everhardt championed significant projects to make the Parkway safe and accessible for visitors, expanded ranger led programming, constructed new trails, supported the addition of arts destinations like the Asheville Folk Art Center and Blue Ridge Music Center and invested in growing partnerships between the park and local communities.

His long list of awards includes the Department of the Interior's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, which he received in 1985. The headquarters of the Blue Ridge Parkway is also named for him.

Nancy, Everhardt's wife for 60 years, was often found side-by-side to her husband. She was a fixture in their communities and family, and actively engaged with her adopted NPS family.

Everhardt and his wife are survived by their two children Karen and Phil.

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