Governor Ralph Northam – Photo courtesy of govenor.virginia.org

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Melissa Baker as Virginia State Parks Director, the first woman to hold the position in the park system’s 83-year history.

Baker most recently served as Director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, a cabinet level position. She will oversee 38 state parks and more than 270 full-time employees around the Commonwealth. Virginia’s state parks yield $24 million in tax revenue annually, provide 3,800 jobs, and attract 10 million visitors each year.

“Director Baker is the right choice at the right time to lead Virginia’s renowned state parks,” said Governor Northam. “Her management experience and extensive knowledge of state parks will be an invaluable asset as we work to enhance Virginia’s parks, preserve and protect our precious natural resources, and expand outdoor recreation opportunities in the Commonwealth.”

In North Dakota, Baker oversaw that state’s park system and administered grant programs, including Land and Water Conservation Fund grants. She previously served as chief of operations for Montana State Parks and as a recreation manager for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She also was a professor of forest recreation at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and taught parks, recreation, and tourism at the University of Maine.

Baker was born in Hayward, California, and grew up in South Fulton, Tennessee. She earned a master’s degree in outdoor recreation management from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and a doctorate in forestry, outdoor recreation management and protected area planning from the University of Montana in Missoula.

“As Virginia state parks continue to expand and modernize, including the upcoming addition of three new parks, it’s exciting to bring in a fresh perspective and new leadership,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “I’m confident that Director Baker will continue the traditions that have made our parks great, while also innovating and creating a park system for the next generation.”

“Virginia State Parks have an amazing history, and I look forward to being a part of the next chapter,” said Baker. “I was drawn to this position by the broad diversity of recreational and outdoor opportunities throughout the Commonwealth and by the dedicated and professional state park staff and I look forward to making Virginia State Parks a welcoming and exciting place for all Virginians.”

“I’m excited to work in Virginia’s diverse state parks that stretch from the Appalachian mountains to the Atlantic coast,” said Baker. “Virginia’s state parks team is known as one of the best in the country, and I can’t wait to join it. I look forward to writing the next chapter in its amazing history together.”

Baker will assume her new role in late January.