Grand Canyon Park superintendent reassigned while under federal investigation

Chris Lehnertz, superindendent of Grand Canyon National Park, gives a bus tour of the South Rim in September. Lehnertz is being reassigned outside the park pending an investigation into undisclosed allegations. (Photo by Corey Hawk/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park is “presently out of the office” and under investigation by the Interior Department for undisclosed allegations, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service said Wednesday.

Christine Lehnertz, who was hired as park superintendent two years ago to address a pattern of sexual harassment among employees at the park, was reassigned after the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General launched the investigation a few days ago.

Federal officials would not reveal the nature of the investigation.

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Lehnertz, who joined the National Park Service in 2007, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“In order to protect the integrity of the OIG’s investigation into these allegations, the Grand Canyon superintendent will move temporarily into a position outside of the park while the investigation is conducted,” the National Park Service said in a statement. “For now, Grand Canyon deputy superintendents will serve as the acting superintendent.”

Four investigators from the Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General arrived at the Grand Canyon on Monday. Park employees had learned about the investigation Friday afternoon.

Nancy DiPaolo, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General, wasn’t sure how long the inquiry will last but said investigators will be interviewing park employees on-site.

Fraud, waste, abuse, ethics and mismanagement of financial resources are some of the types of allegations commonly investigated by the Office of the Inspector General, according to its website.

Once the investigation is complete, the Inspector General’s Office will issue a report to the director of the National Park Service. A public report will be made available 30 days after that. The park will have 90 days to respond to the findings.

“The National Park Service will determine appropriate next steps based on the OIG’s work,” spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo said in an email.

Lehnertz succeeded Dave Uberuaga, who retired in May 2016 after an OIG report revealed complaints from employees who described sexual harassment and hostile work environment in the Grand Canyon’s River District, which is responsible for law enforcement, emergency services and managing river trips down the Colorado River. Lehnertz previously was the superintendent at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Northern California.

Lehnertz’s hiring was praised by Jonathan Jarvis, National Park Service director at the time, in a news release.

“Chris brings outstanding leadership skills and an outsider’s perspective to the National Park Service,” he said.

Lehnertz, who was trained as an environmental biologist, said in that same news release that the park had a responsibility to create a work environment to “ensure the Grand Canyon is a respectful, inclusive place to work and visit.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.