By Keri Luise
Growing up in an apartment complex in Pittsburgh, Nita Settina relied on a nearby public park as her backyard, allowing her to enjoy the outdoors in a way she would not have been able to otherwise. It was experiences in that park and the outdoors that connected Settina to nature and eventually led her to her position as the Maryland State Parks Superintendent.
“Spending time in that park…led me to be who I am as a person connected to nature and what that means to me personally, how that sustains me, how that connects me with others,” Settina says. “And that is ultimately what I want to share with others, that’s the mission of the Maryland Park Service. It’s to provide an opportunity for people to connect with nature and to find strength and joy in that personal connection.”
Her connection to people and to nature was recently recognized when Settina was presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of State Park Directors. “It was a complete surprise, I must say. I didn’t even know I was nominated,” Settina says. “I have so admired past awardees that it was just really humbling to be selected by my peers for this recognition. I was really proud to represent the Maryland Park Service and all of our men and women with this recognition.”
Settina began working with the Department of Natural Resources in 1995, joined the Maryland Park Service in 1999 and has since held several positions in the department. She became the first female Maryland Parks Service Superintendent in 2008.
“It’s been extremely rewarding. I think being in a leadership position is a privilege, it’s a challenge for anyone, male or female,” Settina says. “I try to be a strong leader for the people that work for [me] and to be a leader who can foster a vision and a strategic plan to achieve [my] mission and support the people that work for [me] to achieve those goals.”
As superintendent, every day on the job is different for Settina, from getting out into the field and in the parks with her staff, to collaborating with engineers, architects, scientists and more.
“I think it’s really important that I’m in the parks and meeting face to face with my team to see their challenges and opportunities first hand so that I can be as supportive as possible,” she says. “It takes many disciplines to successfully manage, conserve and interpret all of the natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources in Maryland’s 75 state parks and the superintendent has to engage all of them.”
Over her years at the Maryland Park Service, she helped launch the Conservation Jobs Corps in 2008 which hires teens for summer jobs in the parks and served as the director of the Maryland Conservation Corps which supports young adults working in crews in the parks on a variety of projects and services.
One of the highlights of her career, she says, has been working with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park to preserve Tubman’s home of Dorchester, Talbot, and Caroline Counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The pandemic has made the state parks even more popular. Settina says the service continues to focus on “enabling people to visit their parks in the simplest, purist way which is to come in, enjoy the trails, sit by a lake, fish, hike, bike, just enjoy the resource.”
“I feel like I know that our staff are truly frontline heroes in keeping the gates to the parks open. The parks staff of all have just done an amazing job and made us very proud,” Settina says.