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Virginia State Parks names first woman director

RICHMOND — A woman has been named director of Virginia State Parks for the first time in the park system’s 83-year history.

Melissa Baker, a former director of North Dakota Parks and Recreation, assumes her new position in late January. She will oversee 38 state parks and more than 270 full-time employees throughout Virginia.

Virginia’s state parks yield $24 million in tax revenue annually, provide 3,800 jobs, and attract 10 million visitors each year.

“Director Baker is the right choice at the right time to lead Virginia’s renowned state parks,” said Gov. Ralph Northam, who made the announcement. “Her management experience and extensive knowledge of state parks will be an invaluable asset as we work to enhance Virginia’s parks, preserve and protect our precious natural resources, and expand outdoor recreation opportunities in the Commonwealth.”

Baker previously served as chief of operations for Montana State Parks and as a recreation manager for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She also was a professor of forest recreation at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and taught parks, recreation, and tourism at University of Maine.

Born in Haywood, Calif., Baker grew up in South Fulton, Tenn. She earned a master’s degree in outdoor recreation management from Southern Illinois University and a doctorate in forestry, outdoor recreation management and protected area planning from the University of Montana.

“Virginia State Parks have an amazing history, and I look forward to being a part of the next chapter,” said Baker. “I was drawn to this position by the broad diversity of recreational and outdoor opportunities throughout the Commonwealth and by the dedicated and professional state park staff and I look forward to making Virginia State Parks a welcoming and exciting place for all Virginians.”

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