Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker retires

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK — Last Tuesday, Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker turned in his keys, capping off five years of Big Bend leadership and four decades in the National Park Service. Deputy Superintendent Rick Gupman will serve in the interim while a formal search for new leadership begins. 

Krumenaker served through a period of growing pains for the park: during his time at Big Bend, there was a nearly 25% increase in visitation, leading to an all-time-high visitor count of 581,000 in 2021. Managing all the new visitors has led to numerous improvement projects, including the renovation of the Chisos Basin Lodge. 

Through it all, Krumenaker kept his focus on what mattered most to him — the protection of the landscape he’s come to love. In the spring, a bill to expand park boundaries by 6,100 acres was filed by Congressman Tony Gonzalez; a 99-acre chunk on the northern edge of the park was also deemed eligible for federal wilderness designation

The fight for wilderness designation — which would prevent around two-thirds of the park from further development — requires a nod from Congress for federal recognition. “I’m retiring from a great career in the National Park service, but I’ll stay connected to, and actively contributing as a volunteer, to some of the same causes,” he said. 

Krumenaker first visited the park on a canoe trip through the Lower Canyons in 1982. He would later enjoy a starring role in Bravo y Grande, a 2019 documentary about some of the region’s best boatmen enjoying the wild and rugged stretch of river. 

In commemoration of these memorable trips, Krumenaker spent his last day flying over the same route along the Rio Grande with the park’s ranger pilot, Scott Taylor. “Since that was my first Big Bend experience decades ago — as well as my first big trip as superintendent almost five years ago — it seems only fitting that it was also my last adventure as superintendent,” he said. 

Deputy Superintendent Rick Gupman knows that he has big shoes to fill. “Superintendent Krumenaker — or ‘Bob,’ as we call him here at park HQ — is a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “He has a unique leadership style that is and will be hard to replicate. Bob always knew what to do without hesitation.”

Gupman said that his primary role in the coming months is straightforward — though far from easy. “My primary role is to keep the boat afloat and sailing in the right direction,” he said. “What does that look like? Ensuring that the employees and community members here at Big Bend National Park believe us when we say that they are the most important resource here in the park.” 

Though his time in the role won’t last forever, Gupman says he’s in the Big Bend for good. He bought a house in the Davis Mountains and has settled into the community, spending his free time volunteering at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. “Each park is different from the others,” he said. “The thing that many of us heard about Big Bend National Park when we were researching moving here was the sense of place and community.” 

For now, he’s excited about working with his team at Panther Junction. “They are all impressive humans, and it is my very great pleasure to work with them,” he said.