Deputy Superintendent Brandon Bies Thrives On Solving Problems, Both Big And Small
March 13th, 2023
March 13th, 2023
BY LORI SCHAEFER
When Brandon Bies started his career with the National Park Service (NPS) as a young archaeologist, he didn’t envision himself as deputy superintendent of one of the most popular national parks in the country. Yet almost everything Bies has accomplished in his impressive two-decade career has prepared him for exactly this. And he loves it!
Bies has worked at the park, regional, and national levels, in congressional affairs, as a park manager, and as a cultural resource specialist and archeologist. This diverse set of experiences combined with his energy, passion, and love of “fixing” things, are just some of the assets that Bies brings to Acadia.
Bies was named Deputy Superintendent of Acadia National Park and St. Croix International Historic Site in October 2021. He, his wife Laura, and their two young sons, Sam (age 11) and Josh (age 8), relocated to Mount Desert Island in December 2021.
Bies recently marked his one-year anniversary with Acadia and I sat down with him to discuss his role and learn more about what prompted him to put Acadia on a short list of parks where he would be willing to relocate.
Q: Tell us about your job. What portions of the park do you manage?
A: Acadia has about 100 permanent employees and 165 seasonal positions (when we can fill them all). The park is organized by function currently into five divisions: Administration, Maintenance, Resource Management, Visitor Experience and Education, Visitor Resource and Protection.
And we’re soon to add a sixth division, Project Management.
As Deputy Superintendent, I oversee the operations of the park and all six division chiefs report to me. I also oversee the park’s safety program and the St. Croix Island International Historic Site up on the Canadian border.
On any given day, I might work with Superintendent Kevin Schneider on a big issue like what housing at Acadia looks like five or 10 years from now, and later that day I’m problem solving how to get a missing form processed by HR so we can hire a person…and everything in between.
Q: How did your background prepare you for the job? Was this always your career path?
A: I started as an archeologist with the NPS 20 years ago. My background and interests were in archeology, history, and historic preservation. That’s what I thought I wante d to do, and it’s still a huge part of what I do.
After a few years in the field, I wanted to try leadership positions. I managed a couple of stand-alone units of the NPS—Great Falls Park in Virginia and Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
At Arlington House, I had 25-30 people working under me as managing a curatorial division, as well as interpretation, maintenance, and fee-collections. This was my first taste of mini-park management, and I enjoyed collaborating with others to solve problems.
My next stop was a detail assignment in Legislative and Congressional Affairs in D.C., and from there I moved to a permanent position handling congressional affairs for the National Capitol Region office of the park service for four years. In this role, I advocated for several high-profile projects, such as the $227M rehabilitation of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and for critical repairs to the Washington Monument. I learned the political sensitivities of the impacts of decisions, honed my external affairs and communications skills, and spent a lot of time putting out fires (figuratively, not literally).
After that, I was the superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. It was the perfect first superintendency for me as it was a smaller park with about 700,000 visitors per year and a staff of 30, and it was a historical site.
I absolutely loved leading a park! We did incredibly cool historic preservation and archeology projects, completed the park’s first fire management plan including a controlled burn program where we set 100 acres on fire in the suburbs of D.C. to maintain the health of the landscape, beat down invasive plants, and increase habitat for ground-nesting bird populations. We also implemented a deer-management plan to greatly decrease the deer population which was destroying the forest.
Here I was as a reformed archeologist implementing programs to preserve historic landscape and the natural habitat, and I loved that! I had no plans to do anything else.
In March 2020, I got a call from the Deputy Director of the NPS asking me to coordinate the park service’s response to COVID.
I really didn’t want to do it. I was happy where I was. But, when the NPS leadership calls and asks, you do it. I served as the NPS Director’s Deputy Chief of Staff, coordinating the agency’s COVID-19 response. I got to work with people at the highest levels across the park service, and it was one of the times I worked with Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider.
Q: How did you get from a top staff job in Washington D.C. during COVID to Acadia?
A: After 10 months in that position, my wife and I started talking about the future. Given the age of our kids, we knew if we were going to make a move out of D.C., this was the time to do it. And we knew that if we could survive raising two very active sons in the city during COVID for 1.5 years with no
school, we were resilient!
I had always been interested in picking up and moving, but my wife’s job in wildlife policy and running a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit kept us from considering it. Of course, during COVID she worked fully remotely and thus was able to convince her board that she could do it effectively.
We pulled together a short list of places that I would want to work and where we wanted to raise our family. Acadia was on that list. When this job opened up, I jumped at the chance to apply.
Q: What do you enjoy most about the job?
A: I like being “the fixer”—the problem solver. I enjoy talking through the issues with the division chiefs and other key staff to get their perspectives and ideas, thinking through all aspects of an issue or a problem, and then making a well-informed, deliberate decision.
I don’t make a lot of snap decisions. I want to make sure that everybody in the room has had an opportunity to give their perspective. That was modeled for me early in my park service career by former Acting NPS Director David Vela when he served as my superintendent. It’s something I have always appreciated and tried to model. I’ve found that at Acadia we can do that in a productive, cordial, and respectful way.
Q: What are some of the best parts of your job at Acadia?
A: On a personal level—we love it here! In our urban life in Washington D.C., we walked and rode our bikes and had only one car. Before we moved here, my kids had never ridden a school bus. So, we had some apprehension about how it would go, but we’ve never looked back.
We love the lifestyle, the climate, and the people. It’s a lot less intense than living in a major urban area. Everyone is welcoming, friendly, and so supportive. Within a month of the move, both of my sons had found best friends. My wife Laura has found a core group of friends. The fact that everyone is happy here is the most important thing for me personally. We’re all thriving! We’re thriving.
From a career perspective, I’m learning so much. Until now, I’d never managed a large campground operation, a large bus transportation system, or worked with a super heavy-hitting philanthropic partner like Friends of Acadia. It’s a totally different scale.
One of the things that attracted me to Acadia was the opportunity to work with a premier philanthropic partner. I had been involved with the Friends Alliance nationally and it was clear that Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park had shared priorities and a strong partnership.
The other thing that’s incredibly rewarding is the dedication of Acadia’s staff. Our park employees—no matter what role they’re in—do such a good job, maintain a positive attitude, and are committed to the mission of preserving and protecting Acadia as a natural resource. They take pride in their work and in the mission. They are some of the most dedicated to the mission that I’ve ever experienced.
Q: Do you have any fun facts you want to share as we get to know you?
A: My wife Laura and I were born 10 hours apart in the same Delaware hospital and we didn’t know each other until later in life. We’re both originally from Delaware, and Delaware at the time, had only one hospital. She is the eldest and her birthday is July 5, while mine is July 6.
Q. What are you most looking forward to in 2023 for Acadia?
A. Well, this might sound nerdy, but hiring three new division chiefs. It will take a lot of effort, but these positions will help shape the face of our leadership and the park moving forward. I’m looking forward to in six or eight months having hired some super-talented people and bringing them into the fold!
Q: What do you want our readers to know about 2023 and the
park moving forward?
A: I’m the operations guy, so what excites me may not be true for everyone. I’m excited about new pavement on most of Park Loop Road (from the Sand Beach entrance station to just past Jordan Pond House), and new pavement and culverts on Cadillac Mountain. I’m looking forward to finally breaking ground on the new maintenance facility at the end of March. It’s been a long-time coming and it’s one of the shining examples of the Great American Outdoors Act funding in action. I’m also really excited about tackling the housing challenge in a meaningful way with Friends of Acadia’s partnership So many things, big and small!
LORI SCHAEFER is Friends of Acadia’s Vice President of Communications.