Melissa and David Vela at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID VELA

National Park journey



PHOTO COURTESY OF JESUP MEMORIAL LIBRARY

BAR HARBOR — Raymond “David” Vela, former acting director of the National Park Service, paid a visit to Jesup Memorial Library to give a book talk on Sunday. 

The event, hosted by Friends of Acadia, featured the author discussing his new book, “Hola Ranger: My Journey through the National Parks.” In the book, Vela talks about growing up in southeast Texas, his first visit to a national park as a child and the influence that both had on his life. 

While he was here on Mount Desert Island, Vela attended a National Park Foundation board meeting, along with Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider, who used to work for Vela. Schneider served as a deputy during Vela’s career as superintendent of Grand Teton National Park.  

“He was a phenomenal leader in the National Park Service, and of course working together at Grand Teton, we became friends, and having him at Acadia was a pleasure,” Schneider said. 

Born in Wharton, Texas, Vela was pursuing a career in public service when he landed a role as a park ranger. Many promotions later, he began writing a book while he served as a regional director for the NPS in Atlanta, Ga.  

At that time, in 2010, Vela was in charge of 66 national parks, spanning the southeastern U.S. and into the Caribbean, and was giving a lot of speeches in his official capacity as regional director. As he continued to give speeches, more and more people approached him requesting written chronicles of his experiences. For the rest of his career, Vela documented his NPS endeavors and encounters. 

 In 2019, Vela became acting director of the NPS. During his tenure, Vela advocated for the Great American Outdoors Act, passed by Congress and signed by former President Trump in 2020, which, allocated billions of dollars to address the maintenance backlog in national parks. When he retired in late 2020, Vela was able to finish his book, which was published this January.  

“My book starts out thanking those who came before me who opened up doors and the people of color who laid the path to follow decades later,” Vela said.  

Filled with stories and pictures that span his 1960s childhood to adulthood, “Hola Ranger” captures what it’s like to preserve the beauty of America’s lands.  

“I wanted to have a lot of images that showed my humble beginnings growing up with my parents who became citizens here, and my wife of 42 years, who all played an important role in my journey,” said Vela.  

Based on the three principals of faith, family and country, Vela said his book was to inspire the next generation of conservation stewards, advocates and workforce. 

Now that Vela is retired, he said he wants to stay engaged with communities, especially those containing national parks. Though all the 423 national parks that Vela has visited are special to him, he claims that Grand Teton National Park was the first that changed his life for the better.  

Vela is a current member of the National Park Service Foundation and serves on the board of the Teddy Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation, which is raising money to build a presidential library for Roosevelt in North Dakota. He is also on the board of Eastern National, a nonprofit association that manages many of the bookstores and gift shops east of the Mississippi River that support NPS educational and scientific programs. 

Vela now lives in Bryan, Texas, with his wife Melissa. They have two children, one of whom is following in his father’s footsteps as chief ranger for Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas national monuments in St. Augustine, Fla.  

“Hola Ranger” can be found at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop and on Amazon. 

“In retirement, I want to stay focused and support the National Park Service in any way that I can,” Vela said. “I’m deeply humbled by the positive response in the book reviews, and by events that we’re having now around the country.”  

Ninah Rein

Ninah Rein

Writer at Mount Desert Islander
Ninah Rein, an MDI native, covers news and features in the Bar Harbor area. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.
Ninah Rein

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