By Shoshanna McCollum
With a key position often known for imported hires from the outside, it’s nice to see a familiar face that came from within. John Stewart, a National Park Service Ranger who has spent the majority of his career within Fire Island National Seashore, has been promoted to the position of Chief Ranger. His new title became effective on February 8, 2015.
“I am fascinated by the complexity of Fire Island,” Stewart said during a telephone interview while he was attending Park Service Management Training in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “The multiple layers of jurisdiction makes Fire Island very different from other national parks. I love working with the communities and am proud of representing the National Park Service within them.”
The Hicksville native first came to FINS as a Seasonal Law Enforcement Ranger in 1997, after serving a brief stint at Statue of Liberty National Park. Stewart graduated from Long Island University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and Political Science, followed by a Master’s Degree in American History. He then enrolled as a cadet at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Conservation Law Enforcement Academy, where he graduated first in his class.
Once at FINS, Stewart’s titles rose steadily over the years. He became a Permanent Law Enforcement Ranger in 1999, then Lead Patrol Ranger in 2005, followed West District Ranger in 2006. John served as Acting Chief Ranger in 2011, but was passed over for the permanent title, as Lena Koschmann became the first female Chief Ranger in FINS history as of early 2012.
However Stewart’s work earned him distinction. As a result of being a 9/11 First Responder, he was appointed to Leader of the NPS Northeast Region’s Special Events and Tactical Team where he worked with 22 national parks spread across 13 states. Later when Hurricane Sandy struck Fire Island, he was appointed Interim Commander Chief of Operations and Recovery. When Koschmann left FINS to accept another NPS position in the Intermountain West in October of 2014, Stewart became Acting Chief Ranger once again. This time his placement was announced as permanent by year’s end.
As someone many Fire Islanders have known and trusted for nearly 18 years, reaction to Stewart’s placement in this important role has been very positive.
“I think Ranger Stewart deserved the promotion,” said Susan Rothberg, a frequenter of Lighthouse Beach. “He’s eminently qualified and has respect for the Fire Island stakeholders, as well as the other Rangers.”
Indeed John Stewart’s love of Fire Island seems only to be eclipsed by that for his family, beaming with pride as speaks of Mary Ann, his wife of 16 years, and their 9-year-old daughter, Laurel, as the center of his life.
“I want to leave Fire Island better than I found it,” said Stewart. “If the Fire Island communities and National Seashore don’t have a future together, we don’t have a future at all. If I have to say ‘no’ to someone, whatever the reason, it will be an answer based on my experience, not ‘just because.’”
Chief Ranger John Stewart with wife Mary Ann and daughter Laurel.