Ray Murray

A Voice For Parks

Recorded: May 4, 2013

Who speaks for parks? Ray Murray has been a voice for parks since the 1960s. He has several decades of experience working for the Bureau of Outdoor Education and the National Park Service. He can be credited for significant work leading up to the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Santa Monica National Recreation Area, California Desert Parks and many more.  In this video, Ray explains how he helped to establish the new Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond California in 2000, at a time when no new parks were being created.

An expert on outdoor recreation and a pioneer of park creation and management, Ray Murray can be credited as having a major role in the creation and management of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the California Desert Parks, Rosie the Riveter World War II National Historic Park, and Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial among others.

In the early 1970s, while working for the small agency, the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) Ray was the agency’s go-to manager for many big projects. In 1978, after the economic downturn in park funding following the implementation of Proposition 13, Ray and his staff developed a portfolio of recommendations to increase revenue and reduce costs. His team produced 26 different handbooks and audio-visual materials to address how parks could thrive in the new environment. This new set of tools and mechanisms was crucial to the  success in managing parks in a changed economic environment. This encouraged partnerships in the National Parks Service (NPS) that still exist today.

After the BOR and NPS agencies merged in 1978, Murray rose through the ranks in the National Park Service and became Planning, Grants and Environmental Quality chief for the Western Region. He supervised the preparations of general management plans and development concept plans for most of the natural parks and Special Area Studies in California Nevada and Hawaii. Today Ray is the Regional Partnership chief charged with advancing the culture of partnering and fundraising in the region. In 1992, he received the Pugsley Award for his pioneering and innovative ideas related to parks administration.

Huey Johnson:    A very important position, professionally for a resource managers is to become the assistant of somebody with a lot of power or influence. In politics, that’s often an appointed official, head of an agency, and one who has a lot of publicity focused on him or klieg lights of publicity.  And he or she has trusted silent assistants who really go out and do the work, who go to the meetings, who debate the topics behind closed doors and who aren’t seen or heard, but are in a very powerful position.  They’re essential to success and it’s awfully important to know that role exists in institutions.  This is an interview with one of the best.  He happens to be in the Park Service; he could have been head of a huge federal agency. But he defines very carefully and very clearly what he’s been able to do, or what he does, and he thinks nothing of it other than that’s his job and his professional position and he’s proud of it.  We need to have young people understand this kind of job and get involved and prepare for it themselves.

Ray Murray:    To make a park work in perpetuity, first of all it takes the initial vision, the initial commitment. And that might be a combination of philanthropic support, it might be a combination of having the right congressman who’s a strong champion and has a strong enough voice in Washington to make something happen.  And it takes getting through the legislation, it takes the administrative support to make sure all the things are behind it. Then you get the park established. Then you have–okay, we’ve got to protect this park, so how do you make sure the right things happen?  And then you have, again, the people that care about that park, often it’s the people who live close to it or the people that are – use it the most and they have a real passion about it.  And these visions don’t always mesh. Somehow we need to work through that process to try to get the best, the best outcome for the resource and for the visitors that come there.  If we can keep the balance right, the experience that people have there is incredible.

Huey Johnson:     Sure.

Ray Murray:    And everybody remembers that, and it becomes one of the favorite memories of their lives in terms of time spent there.  I’ve learned the most when I really volunteered for something or really elected to take on additional responsibility and I’ve done that a number of times through my career and I’ve definitely learned the most.  It’s like sometimes when you’re the hardest pressed, you have a new challenge, a new learning opportunity, that’s really where you grow, I think, in an organization.  I’ve been in some very adverse situations too.

Huey Johnson:     Some of the most interesting work would be a policy position or where you’re affecting policy and you’re going to be having to make some tough decisions.  Just understand that if you’re going to be in the field, you may run into some challenges.

Ray Murray:    I’ve ran into a few a time or two,

Huey Johnson:    Well, tell me…-

Ray Murray:    Where you get out there on an edge. Well, I remember another one in a very–again, fiscally conservative congress, basically, was Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front. That theme had never been developed in a National Park Service, it’s a theme that we’ve interpreted in and created a park around. We started looking at Richmond for something a lot more modest than that. Then we realized this was the place we can tell the story.  I mean this is one of the most important stories in the development of the West in terms of migration and settlement and industrialization and Richmond had the critical mass. It’s the place to tell it.  We had internal tensions with the Parks Service over it and we had concern about whether there’d be enough congressional support for it.  I remember one time that George Miller wanted to have the feasibility study, and we had rushed to get this thing done, and I kind of sent this thing off a little bit early before it had been fully processed. But he had it, and that’s what he needed to start the action in congress.  And so even in a very conservative environment, that park did get established.

Huey Johnson:    That point of understanding politics: that politics is give and take and it isn’t in cement.  It takes people like you to quietly be able to maneuver in the background to help guide things through, both to deliver papers and to purposely lose them.  I remember on several occasions I’ve had – where we really had a problem, somebody just – a paper disappeared.  And so the give and take behind the scenes is an important reality of career management too.

Ray Murray:    You’re going to have feast and famine.  You’re going to have periods where the stars are not in the right alignment and you have a difficult environment on the Hill.  Getting Rosie the Riveter through, that was a time when congress was not creating any new parks.   You find what you can do in those times when you have the downturn or you have the adverse situations. You find what – what are the targets of opportunity that you can focus in on and try to make a difference.

And I think it’s the challenge of how do you prevail and not get discouraged and really try to persevere.  If you’re taking the government dollar for your salary, you should be delivering the maximum value back to the public in terms of your best effort.  There’s so much to do. Never get satisfied.  Never get complacent.