When Michael Creasey landed the job of general superintendent of the National Parks of Boston, he hadn’t even applied for the coveted position that contains so many of America’s earliest Revolutionary War treasures.
As one of the top planners for the future of the National Park Service (NPS), and in charge of a site in northern New England at the time, he had only come to Boston to do a routine assessment of the three Boston park sites upon the departure of former Boston Supt. Cassius Cash. In looking over those three sites, which includes Bunker Hill Monument and parts of the Navy Yard in Charlestown, he reported extensively to his superiors about the momentum in Boston and it being an ideal site for instituting a plan he had helped come up with for the 100th Anniversary of the NPS – a plan called the ‘Urban Agenda: Call to Action Initiative.’
As executive director of the forward-thinking National Park Service Stewardship Institute in Vermont, Creasey thought Boston an ideal setting for the way the NPS hopes to enter its 100th year in 2016.
It was the passion in that overview that he wrote that ended up being his best argument for getting the job.
“I spent a week doing the management assessment of the park and I ended up writing up the report, which came out at about the same time as we had issued our new Urban Agenda initiative,” he said in a recent interview. “My report said that Boston had the right energy and new leadership in government, strong non-profits and educational institutions. There were a lot changes and positive new energy and new ideas – the perfect mix. We had just called for the NPS in our Urban Agenda to have more relevance in the cities. I filed the report and didn’t apply for this job. However, after I filed it, I got a call from my boss saying, ‘You have to take this job.’ I told him I was happy where I was, but that I would consider the opportunity. I talked it over with my family and we decided that if I was going to move on, now would be the time. We love New England and we love Boston and this was an opportunity we didn’t pass up. My first week was the week of the Bunker Hill Day Parade and Charlestown Pride Week. That was a great way to start and it’s been awesome every since.”
Creasey not only oversees the important Charlestown monuments, but he said he can see them from his home. He recently settled in Charlestown with his family, and said he did so because he believes that he needs to live in the place that he works.
“I’m excited to live here in Charlestown and I’m so close to the Monument that I can see it from my back porch,” he said. “When I was in the Blackstone Valley, I lived there. When I was in Lowell, I lived there. Now, I live in Charlestown. I believe in living in the place I work so I am near the areas I oversee and am accessible to the community.”
Over the span of three decades, Creasey has blended his background in planning, public lands management and academia to serve in a variety of positions for the NPS. He was the superintendent of Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts from 2005-2012. During his tenure at Lowell, he attended Harvard University Graduate School of Design as a Loeb Fellow where he concentrated on leadership, urban planning and public policy. Other positions that Creasey held include the acting commissioner for the National Parks of New York Harbor, overseeing 10 national parks within the metro region of New York City and New Jersey; for a decade Creasey was the executive director of the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; served as project manager with the NPS Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program developing a bi-national conservation plan along the lower Rio Grande River in Texas and Mexico; and as a park planner with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office in Philadelphia.
Creasey said he has had terrific opportunities to travel in his career, seeing lush landscapes in the Southwest and untouched desert spans in South Texas, as well as Appalachian highlands in West Virginia and Maryland. However, it has been his innovative way of looking at National Parks that has elevated him from an interpretive Ranger to a prime player in the way the NPS hopes to survive and preserve America’s character. While in the Mid-Atlantic area and based in Philadelphia, he helped usher in the idea of National Heritage Sites and Areas. Those areas interpreted the history of a place and the industry that survived there – acting as much as an economic development tool as a park.
As an example, he came to New England in 1985 and was able to transform the Blackstone River Valley from a very depressed former industrial area into a National Heritage Corridor that has helped rebound the 24 cities and towns he presided over in the corridor. The same can be said for Lowell, when he came there and helped transform a down and out mill town into a significant stop on the agenda of any serious American History student.
“That urban planning effort resulted in a new sense of price to a City that was down and out; it brought a new identity,” he said.
In 2012, though, he was charged with thinking about how the NPS was going to reach the people in a more meaningful way than just giving tours of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone. Creasey came up with the Urban Agenda, and he said that means that the NPS needs to concentrate more on the cities, while keeping its original mission in preserving the treasures like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. “We need to uphold gorgeous places like Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains, but the agenda is to go to the people,” he said. “Some 80 percent of people are living in metropolitan areas now and the agenda looks at being more relevant to them as NPS celebrates its 100th year in 2016.”
Certainly, a part of that agenda is getting to know Charlestown – as a neighbor and as a steward of the history that so many residents hold dear and routinely celebrate.
“Coming in on Bunker Hill week was a wonderful way to get a sense of the community and how important the history of the community is to the people,” he said. “Charlestown is unique with its military heritage and its Revolutionary War heritage. There is a real sense of pride and preservation in the town. There are so many American flags you’ll see here. The Monument plays a huge role here. I’m always surprised how critical the Monument is to Charlestown and it is incredible how critical it is.”
Part of his local goals are to partner with the community, he said.
He indicated that there is a good opportunity to partner with the Training Field, a City park that plays a large role in the Battle of Bunker Hill, to do interpretation.
“How do we help to support all the contextual sites like Training Field that connect with Bunker Hill?” he said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t collaborate with the Training Field.”
However, providing NPS funding for infrastructure, such as the Training Field Fence project, may not be in reach as there is an $84 million deficit for the Boston National Parks.
However, he said they do plan to participate in the big Halloween celebration at the Monument, which hasn’t been the case in the recent past.
“We will be a part of that,” he said. “We are part of the community. Halloween isn’t really part of the NPS mission entirely, but as it relates to the Urban Agenda initiative, we need to have participation in things that are non-traditional. Are there ways to support the community? I think the Bunker Hill Day Parade and Halloween at the Training Field are ways we can. I am a firm believer that we need to be participating in the community.”
Creasey also has plans for the Navy Yard, and hopes that the NPS can take it to even greater heights than it already is.
“I’m envisioning the Navy Yard as achieving greater potential than it already has over the years,” he said. “We’re going to contribute a Stewardship Plan for the Navy Yard to see how we can explore creating a better visitor experience and pursue somethings with these buildings and look at the whole space in new and creative ways.”
The NPS, he said, is also very interested in the development of the Bunker Hill Housing Development by the Boston Housing Authority. That, he said, is because there is a significant Revolutionary War site on that property – the rail-fence where it was uttered, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.”
“We are very interested in the rail-fence site and the redevelopment of that housing development,” he said. “The rail-fence goes right through there and we see some real opportunity in looking at ways we can create a better interpretation of that site.”
Finally, he said he hopes to really partner with the schools and universities in Boston. He said it should be a natural that school-aged kids in Boston come to the NPS sites, including the Monument in Charlestown and the Navy Yard. However, many do not make it there during school, and many do not walk the Freedom Trail.
“We have really begun to explore how to make this a more viable and collaborative program,” he said. “We had 50,000 students a year come to Lowell; I envision 100,000 school children here…I have a passion for education. I would really like to work more closely with the Boston Public Schools. There are so many opportunities in Boston to do that. We need to take advantage of higher education too. We have a wonderful opportunity to do very meaningful things with K through grey (senior citizens) – very meaningful things.”
Creasey said, in conclusion, that he is very excited to be superintendent of Boston’s three sites – the Boston National Park, the Boston Harbor Islands Park and the Boston African American National Historic Site on Beacon Hill.
“My whole career has been a terrific opportunity,” he said. “Now, here I am in Boston, and it’s a very exciting time to be here.”