His name is the answer to a not-at-all-trivial question: Who was the first employee of the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia?
The answer: Gary Hartley. After playing a major role in planning, building and overseeing SBR from Day One, Hartley retired after the 2017 National Jamboree. As he rides into the sunset (maybe on his favorite Harley), we talked to Hartley about his extraordinary career, which includes more than three decades in the National Park Service. But Hartley both began and ended his working life in partnership with Scouting.
Hartley, an Eagle Scout, credits the BSA with getting him into the outdoors in the first place. In the early ’70s, he and some other boys were backpacking in the Pecos Wilderness when, suddenly, two mounted park rangers rode up to check their permits.
“I just thought, boy, what a cool job, to be a ranger on horseback in the mountains,” Hartley says.
After college, Hartley was hired as a ranger for the National Park Service. He worked in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Virginia and other states before being hired as the first chief ranger for Pecos National Historical Park.
“It was a dream come true,” Hartley says. “There I was, a ranger riding in the Rockies like I had seen at Philmont. It’s funny how Scouting experiences can shape your life.”
Hartley’s NPS career led him to fascinating accomplishments. At Pecos, he worked with American Indian groups to recover the bodies of more than 2,000 people whose remains an archaeologist had sent to Harvard’s Peabody Museum. After descendants of the Pecos tribe filed suit to have the remains repatriated, Hartley was deputized as a U.S. Marshal so he could go to Harvard, take possession of the bodies and return them to be reburied with proper respect.
Later, Hartley worked with indigenous people in China as the country established park areas in its poorest provinces. And when he was chief ranger at New River Gorge National River in West Virginia, he was dispatched to Jordan’s city of Petra after it was used in scenes from the 1989 movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Overwhelmed by curiosity seekers, Jordanian authorities sought his help in establishing the area as the country’s first national park. He trained 50 Jordanians to serve as the park’s first rangers.
“As you can see, I like startup projects,” Hartley says.
And so he was ready for the biggest startup of his career in 2007, when the BSA was searching for a permanent home for the National Jamboree. Scouting wanted a National Park representative on the task force, called Project Arrow. With Hartley’s Scouting background, he was a natural. After the decision to buy the land in West Virginia, Hartley became SBR’s first employee.
“They needed a local to take possession of the land, so I was hired,” Hartley says. “When the officials were signing the papers, I went to the landowner, got the keys and changed the locks.”
Looking back on the whirlwind development of SBR, Hartley has so many memories. He was there when zip lines, bridges and lakes were just stakes in the ground. He was there taking photographs the first time Stephen Bechtel saw the place. He drove AT&T CEO and BSA National President Randall Stephenson around for a first visit, pointing out locations for rock climbing and mountain biking.
“Late in the day, Randall turned to me and said, ‘You want to trade jobs?’ ” He just thought it was such a great thing — not just a place but a movement where we could do new things, try different ideas and take Scouting forward,” Hartley says.
Hartley is retired, but he’s not fading away. He lives near SBR and will still drop in to see those new ideas in action.
“It’s been an incredible group — the architects, the designers, the donors,” he says. “They have been phenomenal. I will have great memories of working with the people who made this happen.”
I had the great pleasure of working with Gary during the planning, design, and construction of the Summit. He chronicled everything we did with his great photography. He’s a great guy and I feel pretty certain he will still spend countless days photographing the many thrills of the future at the Summit.
I had the opportunity and honor to work with Gary during his NPS and SBR days. The perfect gentleman, Gary was a wealth of knowledge and made working behind the scenes enjoyable and fun.