Roxanne Bierman, left, is the new executive director of the Canyonlands Natural History Association. She is replacing Cindy Hardgrave, right, who is retiring. [Courtesy photo]

When Midwest native Roxanne Bierman came out West for the first time and saw the Grand Tetons, she knew she never wanted to leave. Like a lot of young people, she worked seasonal jobs at Yellowstone National Park so she could stay in the West.

“I loved everything about it – the mountains, the people, the wide open spaces,” Bierman said.

Eventually, she found a full-time job with the Grand Teton Association near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Bierman worked as director of operations for 25 years before accepting a position two weeks ago as executive director of the Canyonlands Natural History Association (CNHA) in Moab.

The CNHA was founded nearly 50 years ago to serve the public lands around Moab.

“Both associations are nonprofit partners with federal (land management) agencies,” Bierman said. “Here those partners are the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the (U.S.) Forest Service.”

Although the weather is a big change from her former home in Jackson, Bierman said that Moab is a similar community.

“I love all the recreation opportunities here – there’s even more here than in Jackson,” where she met her husband Greg Smith, and where they raised their son Charles, she said.

Outgoing CNHA Executive Director Cindy Hardgrave is retiring after 19 years with the association, first as manager of the Moab Information Center and Arches Bookstore, then as the nonprofit association’s executive director.

The work is “truly joyful,” Hardgrave said. “For me, the most fun is seeing the light in visitors’ eyes, and sharing the excitement and passion when they see the red rocks for the first time and are awestruck by the beauty.”

As the new CNHA director, Bierman said she plans to maintain what is already going on at the association.

“There’s a wonderful staff, and a supportive board that is very engaged,” Bierman said. “There’s nothing broken that needs to be fixed.”

The CNHA employs 50 people during the busy season, though that number drops to nine in the off-season. The off-season, however, is becoming shorter each year, Bierman said.

An increase in wintertime events in Moab could help bring additional visitors to the nearby parks, increasing the likelihood of eventually creating more full-time, year-round jobs, Bierman said.

The CNHA runs the Moab Information Center and the bookstore at Canyonlands and Arches national parks. Income generated at the bookstore goes toward the parks, as well as the BLM and the Forest Service.

A quarter-million people per year visit the Moab Information Center, at the corner of Main and Center streets, for information about the area and to purchase books and maps.

Bierman learned of the executive director position through a Public Lands Alliance posting. The PLA is the umbrella organization of the Canyonlands and Tetons associations.

“My husband was retired, and our son grown. It was a great opportunity for me to make a move,” Bierman said. “I’d heard wonderful things about Moab.”

After accepting the job, Bierman, an avid road biker, said she went out and bought a mountain bike.

“I’m looking forward to taking up (the sport),” she said. “My husband and I also do a lot of hiking.”

When asked why she is retiring, Hardgrave responded, “I’m 69,” although she’s still interested in working with visitors, perhaps as a volunteer, she said. And, she plans to do some gardening.

“It really is a great job,” Hardgrave said.

In addition to enjoying helping people learn about the environment, Hardgrave said she loved interacting with visitors from all over the world.

“I found the international component charming,” Hardgrave said. “(And) when people learn and understand what they’re seeing, they’re more likely to become stewards (of the land).

“It’s truly a gift to be in service of that land.”

New head of Canyonlands Natural History Association says it’s “a gift to be in service of that land”

There’s a wonderful staff, and a supportive board that is very engaged … There’s nothing broken that needs to be fixed.