Park superintendent settling in

With a month of experience under her belt, things are coming naturally to Haleakala National Park’s new superintendent.

“It’s getting easier and easier,” said Natalie Gates, who was named to the position in January and began her duties in early March. “It was kind of a whirlwind at the beginning.”

Gates, a wife, mother of three college-aged boys and owner of a Labrador, made the move to the Valley Isle by herself. Her family is planning on moving in the summer.

She said it has been difficult living away from her family, but she is concentrating on her new duties at the park.

“I literally just put my feet in the water,” she said, jokingly about visiting the beach only once or twice. “Right now, I’m in a learning and listening phase.”

Gates said she is not looking to change her mindset, or the park, too much during her tenure, and would like to have continued communication with the community.

“I think this is a well-managed park,” she said. “I come from a park with a lot of natural resources at risk, so that’s not new to me, but every park is different and has to be valued for those differences.”

In her short time, she has already found herself in the middle of the controversial Advanced Technology Solar Telescope being constructed atop Haleakala.

The $300 million project that has been contested since December 2010, began construction at the end of November, and plans call for finishing it in about seven years.

Gates said she understands the project’s controversial nature, but her role is to implement the park services direction and commitment to the project.

“I’d certainly like to see continued dialogue with the community,” she said. “Communication from both parts of the the park, from the summit to Kipahulu.”

Although she does not seek to make any drastic changes to the park, she is hoping her experience and background will provide a fresh outlook.

Gates spent 12 years at Point Reyes National Seashore Park in California before moving to Maui, serving as a wildlife biologist, and later, chief of natural resource management. In 2009, she was awarded the Pacific West Regional Director’s Award for her work.

“Sometimes a new perspective can do some good, if only just to bring new enthusiasm,” she said.

Gates replaced former park superintendent Sarah Creachbaum, who left the park in November to work at Olympic National Park in Washington state, and relieved acting superintendent Matt Brown.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at