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Grand Canyon investigation triggers another shake-up

A federal probe has prompted a sudden leadership juggle at Grand Canyon National Park, with a new acting superintendent expected to arrive Sunday.

Woody Smeck, the superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California, will take over as the temporary head of the popular Arizona park, National Park Service officials said last night.

Smeck, a 27-year veteran with the park service, is expected to serve in the position until an investigation of the current superintendent, Chris Lehnertz, is complete, said Vanessa Lacayo, a spokeswoman for the park service's Intermountain Regional Office (Greenwire, Oct. 26).

Lehnertz, who was removed from her position with no explanation, will go to Denver to work in an NPS national office, Lacayo said.

With Smeck temporarily out at Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Christy Brigham will serve for 30 days as the acting superintendent. Brigham is the park's current chief of resources management and science.

At the same time, the park has launched a search for candidates for "a longer-term acting assignment," said Andrew Munoz, spokesman for the NPS Pacific West Regional Office.

The moves could portend a lengthy investigation and mark a shift from the park service's original plans. The park service did not make a public announcement, but word got out after Grand Canyon employees were notified of the moves.

When Lehnertz was removed from the Grand Canyon job last month, park officials said Grand Canyon's deputy superintendents would serve as acting superintendent during her absence. Park officials would not say what caused the leadership change.

Smeck, who has served as superintendent at Sequoia and Kings Canyon since 2013, is no stranger to temporary assignments.

In 2016, he became acting superintendent at California's Yosemite National Park after Superintendent Don Neubacher came under fire over allegations of gender bias and sexual harassment at the park. He held the position for five months.

Smeck also served as acting regional director for the National Capital Regional Office in 2012.

The reason for the Grand Canyon probe remains a mystery, with both the park service and the IG's office remaining tight-lipped.

"At this time, we do not have more information to share," Lacayo said.

But she said that once the investigation is completed, "the National Park Service will determine appropriate next steps."

Lehnertz was brought in at Grand Canyon two years ago to clean up after another sexual harassment scandal. She's the first woman to lead the park.

The leadership moves are the latest in a series of shake-ups to hit the top ranks of the National Park Service this year.

Former Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk and Sue Masica, who led the Denver regional office, both left this summer rather than accept reassignments ordered by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and NPS acting Director P. Daniel Smith.

And Lizette Richardson, the superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona, joined them in July, announcing that she would retire rather than move to Denver to lead the NPS Intermountain Regional Office.

Lehnertz, Wenk and Masica ranked as the most highly paid NPS employees last year, each earning $187,000.

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