Angela Crenshaw has been appointed director of the Maryland Park Service, becoming the first Black woman to lead the organization. The veteran ranger has headed the state park service in an acting capacity since April.

Josh Kurtz, Maryland’s secretary of natural resources, praised Crenshaw and Rachel Temby, the newly appointed deputy director, as “exceptional leaders who are ready to guide the Maryland Park Service forward and ensure equitable, sustainable, and safe access to our incredible state parks.”

Kurtz announced the appointments in an email Monday evening to DNR officials.

Of Crenshaw, Kurtz said, “She enjoys working alongside an invested community of stakeholders who deeply value public lands and actively engage on stewardship issues. She also believes that success comes with meeting people where they are to create a culture of empathy and trust, recognizing and cultivating individual strengths to serve the collective mission, and empowering people to push boundaries and expand comfort zones to realize their full potential.”

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Crenshaw is one of three women recently appointed to lead divisions of the natural resources department, roles that traditionally been held by men. Karina Stonesifer was named the director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service last month. Lynn Fegley became head of Fishing and Boating Services in June.

Temby was a natural resources planner with the environmental review program of DNR’s Resource Assessment Service, and previously served as park manager of Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area for about a decade, according to Kurtz’ email.

The moves come as the parks department undertakes a significant restructuring. Kurtz and Crenshaw are working on a plan to overhaul park leadership and perhaps even break some of the largest parks into smaller, more easily managed parcels. The plan will likely be revealed in January, a department spokesman said.

The park system underwent a major shake-up last year after Michael J. Browning, then the longtime manager of Gunpowder Falls State Park, was accused of raping two employees with whom he had been having consensual sexual relationships. A Baltimore County jury acquitted him of the most serious charges but convicted him of a misdemeanor sexual offense. It followed a trial that made clear he used Maryland’s largest state park as his sexual playground, meeting the women for encounters in park buildings. The park is located in Baltimore and Harford counties.

In a September interview with The Baltimore Banner, Crenshaw and Kurtz stressed that they planned to do away with the vestiges of an old boys’ club culture that had plagued the park service. They have been removing power structures that stemmed from the park service’s roots in law enforcement and working to make the state’s parks welcoming for all visitors, including people of color, Spanish speakers and LGBTQ people.

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“I’ve always turned toward issues,” Crenshaw said. “My parents always taught me to fight for what’s right and do what’s right. Do what you believe.”

Crenshaw, 41, grew up in West Virginia and Baltimore County. She is a graduate of Washington College and has a master’s degree in energy and environmental policy from the University of Delaware. Her first job with DNR was with the boating services unit.

When a ranger position opened up at Elk Neck State Park, Crenshaw applied and was hired, becoming one of the few Black rangers in the park service. She later spent two brief stints at Gunpowder Falls, where former workers said she managed to excel without getting caught up in the toxic culture under Browning.

“She was a good listener. I always trusted her,” said Nita Beanland, a former park service employee who worked with Crenshaw at Gunpowder. “The park service is in really good hands with her.”

Crenshaw became one of the park service’s best-known rangers through her work at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center, which opened on the Eastern Shore in 2017. As the park’s assistant manager, she educated visitors about Tubman’s work leading enslaved people to freedom and became the park service’s lead ranger on “interpreting difficult histories.”

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In April, Kurtz appointed Crenshaw to serve as the acting director of the park service. The move came at a turbulent time for the agency.

Following Browning’s arrest in late September 2022, The Banner launched an investigation into the park service that revealed many workers had filed complaints about harassment, bullying and impropriety at Gunpowder Falls, but that top leaders of the agency appeared to ignore their concerns.

Moreover, employees who complained about Browning found themselves assigned to unpleasant tasks and shifts or passed over for permanent positions. Browning had such unchecked power at Gunpowder, which he had managed since 1991, that many people referred to it as his “kingdom.”

Following publication of The Banner’s report, the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the park service, launched an internal investigation and fired three officials: the long-serving superintendent of the park service, the regional leader who supervised Browning, and the park’s assistant manager. Officials suspended Browning but were unable to fire him due to special protections he had as a law enforcement officer; he retired Nov. 30. and began collecting a $94,500 annual pension.

When Gov. Wes Moore took office in January, he ushered in more changes, quickly appointing Kurtz, the former head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Maryland, to lead DNR.

Julie Scharper is an enterprise reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Her work ranges from investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and abuse to light-hearted features. Baltimore Magazine awarded Scharper a Best in Baltimore in 2023 for her series exposing a toxic work culture within the Maryland Park Service.

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