Park superintendent Wenk calls reports of his departure ‘premature’


Dan Wenk doesn’t want to be the subject of a story — especially if it’s about him leaving his job as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.

“It’s not true,” were the first words out of Wenk’s mouth as he entered the Holiday Inn for the 67th annual Cody Country Chamber of Commerce National Parks Day luncheon on Monday.

He later quipped during a question and answer period that, “I’m circling the drain, but I’m not dead yet.”

National media reports of Wenk being sent to a different post in Washington, D.C., surfaced in the past week, first in the Washington Post; the Department of the Interior refused to confirm the reports.

Individuals familiar with the changes, including some who have been briefed on the plan, spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because the decisions had yet to be finalized by the Interior Department’s Executive Resources Board; the paper said Wenk could be reassigned to the National Capitol Regional Office with Cameron “Cam” Sholly, the head of the Park Service’s regional office in Omaha, taking over in Yellowstone.

Wenk’s initial Monday reply was “no comment” — not because he didn’t want to deny the reports, but because he knows that no matter what he says, people will think what they want, he said.

“What the Washington Post printed was accurate, but not complete,” Wenk said in an interview prior to his public speech.

Wenk said he is periodically considered for movement with the only difference being that it became public knowledge this time.

“My name is in consideration [for a move], but whether or not it will move forward with the [Executive Resources Board], whether or not it’s going to be approved, whether or not I’ll move and where I’ll move to are totally unknowns,” he said. “Any story at this time is totally premature.”

Wenk complained that reports of his leaving the park makes him a lame duck and devalues his position. He said everybody now comes to him and says, “I understand you’re leaving.”

“You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to answer this question,” Wenk said. “My answer is no, it’s not true; it may never be true. What I know is nothing has happened.”

Both Wenk and Grand Teton National Park Superintendent David Vela — who also spoke at Monday’s event in Cody — are part of a cadre of employees called the senior executive service that could be moved by the Trump administration.

They are not uncommon discussions: “It happens in all administrations,” Wenk said.

He has served as Yellowstone’s superintendent since 2011 and retirement is often discussed at the Wenk residence.

“I have over 42 years of service; I’m 66 years old,” he said. “Retirement would have to be part of any discussion.”

With the reports of Wenk’s possible departure swirling, even employees are being questioned about the issue.

Wenk replied to them by email:

“While I was not a source for the article, it is true that I was notified by [National Park Service] leadership that my name was proposed for senior executive service reassignment,” the email said. Wenk ended it by writing, “Let’s avoid rumors and focus our attention on the coming season.”