Cannon to retire after 40 years ‘doing work that matters’

Kate Cannon’s 40-year tenure with the National Park Service will end Jan. 3. The superintendent of the NPS Southeast Utah Group for the past 13 years, Cannon said she’s retiring to join her husband, Ross Rice, a now-retired NPS ranger pilot.

kate cannon retires
Kate Cannon is leaving the National Park Service after a four-decade career. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Cannon, who has a degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a true success story. She hired on with the NPS as a clerk-typist in 1982 and worked her way up to superintendent of Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments.

She first came to southeastern Utah as a seasonal NPS employee at Needles in 1982, but her career began in 1979 on the Yukon River National Monument in Alaska. That area “is just this huge swath in the Yukon,” she said. “Just beautiful.”

She hired on as a clerk-typist, “which is how women got into the service back then, and I couldn’t even type,” she said with a chuckle. From the Yukon she went to Kobuk National Park in the Arctic region of northwest Alaska, where she specialized in resource management – and where she met her future husband, who was a ranger pilot. “It was three million acres. You needed flying rangers,” she said.

Rice wanted to move on and took a job as the district ranger at Glen Canyon. “We got married and I went with him as a concession specialist,” said Cannon.

“It was a wonderful place,” she said. We were right on Lake Powell, the Escalante River and wonderful side canyons. That was the first time I saw Grand Staircase.”

In 1990, the couple transferred to “beautiful” Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota. Another move came in 1997, when she “got a call out of the blue” to serve as the deputy manager at the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. She would be named the manager in 2001.

Of her work in Utah, Cannon had this to say: “It is so enormously varied. The special locales, but also interesting socially and politically.” Speaking of politics, Cannon shut down a rumor that suggested she was forced to retire. “”There was never the slightest … pushback. I was never required to resign. It’s been my plan. I’m 65. My husband retired last year and wants me to join him.” Rice flew for a private business after he retired from NPS, and then retired for good last year.

In 2002, Cannon was the deputy superintendent at the Grand Canyon and she’s been in Moab since 2006.

“I hired great people” she immediately said after being asked what she considers her greatest success. Protecting water rights around Arches is also high up on her list of successes, primarily since doing so will protect the seeps and springs the aquifer feeds.

Any regrets?

“Oh my, I haven’t finished everything,” she said. “We still have a long way to go managing high levels of visitation.”

Cannon said she has no idea who her replacement will be, but she has a few people in mind that she hopes will apply.

And while she’s leaving her profession, she’s staying put in Moab. “I’m not leaving,” she said. “We love it here and we’ll see everybody at the parks.”

Her official statement from the NPS said, “I am incredibly proud of our team and the work we have done to preserve this beautiful land and its treasures. And much of that success comes because we have established and strengthened partnerships and dialogue with our supporting groups like Canyonlands Natural History Association and Friends of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Their support has been astonishing and long lasting.”

Cannon also commended the people of Moab and the larger community including the many city, county, and state agencies that join in management of these parks and surrounding lands, as well as the countless volunteers who have given their time to myriad park projects. “We are a community in the greatest sense of the word,” she said. “My retirement is truly a bittersweet moment for me, but I feel so fortunate to have spent my career doing work I enjoyed, and work that matters.”