The National Park Service has named a new superintendent at Wind Cave National Park and she is no stranger to the park or the region.
Leigh Welling is a native of Crawford and says she has “vivid memories” of time spent at Wind Cave as a child, adding that she feels “a strong strong connection and sense of place to the people and the land.”
Welling brings a rare background to the post in that she was in the academic world before joining the NPS. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Geology and a Masters and PhD in Oceanography, then spent 6 years as a research professional and educator at UNLV and the University of North Dakota before joining the NPS in 2002.
NPS Regional Director Herbert Frost calls Welling “a seasoned manager with experience at park, regional and national levels, adding that “her background in geology and personal history in the area will be a great asset for the park and will provide a basis for strong partnerships that can benefit current and future generations.”
Welling’s first job with the NPS was in Montana at Glacier National Park, where she was director of the Crown of the Continent Research Center. In 2007, she moved to Fort Collins as the leader of the agency’s climate change effort which 3 years later saw her help establish and lead the NPS Climate Change Response Program.
For the last 5 years, Welling has been in the NPS Alaska Regional Office, first as the regional chief scientist and then as the associate regional director for science, communication, and partnerships.
Welling grew up as the youngest child in a Dawes County ranching family and attended Trunk Butte School between Chadron and Whitney. She says she spent most of her childhood outdoors and riding horses, activities that she still enjoys today.
Welling says she’s “so happy to be coming back to the Black Hills and Pine Ridge area,” calling Wind Cave “truly special, for the wonders of the cave itself, for the unique mixed-grass prairie ecosystem it protects and for the historical, cultural and spiritual meaning it holds for many Native American tribes.”
Wind Cave has been without a permanent superintendent since Vidal Davila retired at the end of last year after more than 12 years as superintendent and 45 years with the NPS. Welling is scheduled to begin at Wind Cave on Nov 8.