Prior to becoming the new superintendent at Jewel Cave National Monument July 16, Michelle Wheatley said she had been to Jewel Cave before—as a tourist.
Now, the Colorado native is at the monument to lead it into the future, having received the position through the National Park Service (NPS).
“That’s one of the neatest things about working for the Park Service,” she said. “I was looking for a new opportunity and I was interested in Jewel Cave. There was a vacancy that came open, so I applied.”
Wheatley, an 18-year veteran of NPS, comes to Custer from Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Teller County, Colo., where she spent the past five years as superintendent there.
Wheatley, 54, grew up mostly in Colorado, although her family moved frequently, as her father worked for Weston Hotels. That led the family to Nebraska, Washington and Canada. She graduated from Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., and from Colorado State University with a degree in recreation management and later a master’s in natural resource stewardship.
Wheatley has worked at Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado National Monument and Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site near Deer Lodge, Mont. She chose to work at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument because it was only an hour from Colorado Springs, allowing her to be close to her family. Now she looks forward to living in the Black Hills.
“The Black Hills is a beautiful area. I heard really good things about the community and the monument itself,” she said.
She and her husband, Hal, have two dogs and are living at the monument for now. They are actively looking for a home in Custer or Custer County. She said she has already grown an appreciation for the community.
“It’s wonderful and beautiful,” she said. “It’s really nice to be here.”
A few weeks into the job, Wheatley said she foremost wants to continue the relationship monument staff has with the community, while getting to know community and agency partners to continue to work closely with them. As far as long-term goals, she said it’s too early to say.
“I know we have some big projects coming up in the next couple of years we will be focused on,” she said. “First we have to take care of staff and visitors and make sure we’re providing the best services we can.”
So far, Wheatley has only been on the same guided tours as the general public. She plans to do more intense caving and doesn’t have an aversion to full-on spelunking—at least she doesn’t think she does.
“I guess I will find out,” she said with a laugh.
In her spare time Wheatley enjoys hiking, skiing and other outdoor activities. The opportunity to be able to participate in so many such activities is part of what drew her to the Black Hills.
“I’m really glad to be here and am looking forward to meeting everyone in the community,” she said. “I look forward to being a part of the community as well.”