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McBean blazes trail as first Grandfather ranger

Article Published: Jan. 7, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
McBean blazes trail as first Grandfather ranger

The new Grandfather Mountain State Park has its first superintendent, and she's ready to hit the trails as soon as they thaw a little.

Sue McBean, formerly superintendent of Haw River State Park near Greensboro, has been named superintendent of the newly authorized Grandfather Mountain State Park, according to the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
McBean is an Ohio native who earned a degree in parks and recreation management from Ohio State University and entered the North Carolina parks system in 1993.

She is familiar with Grandfather Mountain but looks forward to getting a chance to learn its numerous trails and working with the staff of the Grandfather Mountain attraction, which is continuing to operate as a non-profit organization.

"I have visited but I have not spent extended time there, so I have a lot to learn," McBean said. "I'm coming from the Piedmont to the mountains. It's a big challenge but it's going to be good. In one sense, it's getting back to my roots of being on the trail and outside."

As superintendent, McBean will be the chief of operations and administration, with wide-ranging responsibilities for staffing, training, law enforcement, visitor services, natural resource protection and environmental education.

An outdoor enthusiast, McBean's latest job had her involved in environmental education and outreach efforts, so she's looking forward to continuing those tasks along with wearing out some boot leather. "I just knew that I wanted to work outside since I was a little kid," she said of her desire to be a park ranger.

McBean understands the significance of the mountain's geology as well as the unique partnership that brought much of the mountain into the state-parks system through a sale and agreement made with the Hugh Morton heirs, who had been operating the park as a privately owned attraction.

The 720-acre Grandfather Mountain Travel attraction is operated by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation which was established to preserve Grandfather Mountain, operate the nature park in the public interest, and participate in educational and research activities. All proceeds from sales of tickets and souvenirs go toward caring for and presenting Grandfather Mountain to inspire similar preservation efforts.

Grandfather Mountain State Park was authorized in June following the acquisition of 2,456 acres along the crest of the famous mountain from the Morton family's Grandfather Mountain Inc., which continues to operate its famous attraction alongside the new state park. The scenic property features a 12-mile network of popular hiking trails and a series of remote campsites.

The state paid $12 million for what is commonly called the "backcountry" portion of the mountain, with land in Watauga, Avery and Caldwell counties. The non-profit organization operates the Mile High Swinging Bridge, animal exhibits, and other features on the mountain that are under a conservation easement.

"It's an icon for the state," McBean said, expecting some upgrades while still retaining a rugged recreational flavor for the trails. "It's nice to come in and rely on the experience of those who have been there. I hope we'll be able to make improvements on trails and backpacking but I certainly don't see level ground for picnic space and campground areas."

The Nature Conservancy assisted with the land deals and owns some adjoining property, and the state has first right of refusal if the top portion of the mountain is ever put up for sale.

"The state, (stewardship) management group, and the Morton family have initiated a really good working relationship," McBean said. "I've met with the people there and I'm hoping to continue to develop a good working relationship between the two management organizations."

McBean worked in seasonal positions for the U.S. Forest Service and for state parks systems in Ohio, South Dakota, Massachusetts, California, Colorado and Alaska before joining North Carolina's state parks system.

She worked as ranger at Jordan Lake State Recreation Area before being promoted as superintendent at Haw River in June 2006. She holds certifications in environmental education and advanced law enforcement and has been a law enforcement instructor for the division.

"Sue has done an outstanding job of guiding the development of Haw River State Park, created in 2005," said Lewis Ledford, state parks director. "She was directly involved in developing staff and creating a draft master plan and building a close relationship with the local community. Her skill and experience will be invaluable as we fashion our newest state park on one of the most beloved landmarks in the state."

As the first park superintendent at Grandfather Mountain, McBean will be involved in forming a citizen park advisory committee, hiring initial park staff and developing management plans in conjunction with the Grandfather Mountain attraction staff.

Right now, she is facing the challenge of many others who make a professional move to the area--facing the weather and finding a home. She expects to begin her new tasks in February.
"I'm really happy to have this opportunity and excited to start a new part of my life in the mountains," McBean said.

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