Professional Development

Kayak Sand Harbor.

Congratulations to the 157 students who completed course work January 7 - 11, 2024 at the 16th State Park Leadership School at the National Training Center at Oglebay Park in Wheeling, West Virginia. The total number of participants in SPLS, from 49 states and 4 Canadian provinces, is now at 966.

The 17th SPLS is scheduled for January 5 - 9, 2025.

Founded in 2007, the State Park Leadership School was formed with hopes to fill a void that was trending due to the baby boomer generation of state park employees approaching retirement. Assistant Park Managers, as well as people coming in from other industries, were in need of professional development in order to step into park manager and other leadership positions.

Ideal students include new supervisors, mid-level managers moving into greater responsibilities and high-potential employees. The program covers core competencies that are essential to effective professional state park management.

Students are able to network with peers from all over the country and receive instruction from professionals with state park management experience.

The two-year certificate program through North Carolina State University consists of both distance education and on-site components. Students begin the program receiving an on-line distance learning module that provides instruction on the curriculum. The on-line portion is followed up by an on-site experiential learning forum at Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, West Virginia. Each year concludes with a written exam covering the various topics within the curriculum. After the second year, an average score of 70% is required to earn the certificate.

The first year curriculum covers topics such as: 21st Century Employee, Building and Sustaining Teams, Coaching to Success, Creating Safe Spaces, Customer Focus, Disruptive Innovations, Conscious Communication, Identity and Traditions of State Parks, Leadership and Decision Making, Leading Through Change, Managing External Relations, Resource Management Planning, Round Table Discussions, and The Power of Interpretation.

The second year curriculum covers additional topics such as: Engage, Relate and Adapt, Ethics for State Park Leaders, Leadership in Design, Leadership in Difficult Times, Leading and Facilitating Workplace Dynamics, Leading your Maintenance Program, Principles of Leadership, Public and Private Partnerships, Public Communication, Recreation Conflict Management, Round Table Discussions, Stress Management, Succession Planning, Business Management Planning, and Understanding Social and Political Context.

The State Park Leadership School aims to develop core competencies for effective state park management by working directly with those who have filled the management positions for several years. Experienced park managers and directors are able to share their experiences with students and participate in a network of management employees so that they may learn from each other having faced some of the same challenges.

In addition to being able learn about some of the traditions, students also get an education about natural and cultural resource management, budgeting, facilitating change and organization and understanding the difference between leadership and management.

Since 2008, STIHL, Inc. has been an instrumental partner in the success of State Park Leadership School. From providing scholarship opportunities where fiscal considerations for out-of-state travel would have otherwise limited participation, to leadership providing insights and strategies in classroom discussions, especially regarding effective communication skills.

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Graduates of the 2024 America's State Parks Leadership School

January 10, 2024


SPLS 2024 Board of Regents and Staff, left to right: Lewis Ledford, NC; Dan Bortner, IN; Roger Phelps, VA (STHIL); Susan Buxton, ID; Brent Leisure, CO; Priscilla Geigis, MA; Ron Olson, MI; Paul McCormack, SC; Sherry Dimucio, WV (Oglebay NTC); Craig Seaver, VA; Raymond Bivens, DE; Glen Cobb, OH; Rodney Franklin, TX; Donald Forgione, FL; not pictured: Matt Whitlow, NE.