Dan Gronseth, a current Park Manager at South Mountain Park and Preserve in South Phoenix, has a long history in Phoenix.
As long as Dan could remember, he was always outdoors. “I can’t remember not being outside…” he says. Born in a little city outside of Chicago in 1962, he describes his childhood as pure suburbia. His love of the outdoors eventually led to a career at his beloved South Mountain Park, which is the largest municipal park in the United States as well as a nature preserve. After graduating from Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with an “impractical” math degree in 1984, Dan decided to go back to school. While on a successful bicycle trip around all 48 states, Dan stayed with a friend in Phoenix. He loved the city and decided to settle in the Valley of the Sun permanently. In 1990, Dan began studying at Arizona State University for his Masters in Public Administration. What he loved, and still loves, about Phoenix is the diversity and culture. “Arizona itself has so many things to offer, so many things to see… and Phoenix is sort of central to all of it..” he says.
Dan’s first job in Arizona was landscaping, and one of his biggest achievements was landing the role as a part time Recreation Leader at South Mountain Park in 1987, when the current Ranger Program began. As a Recreation Leader, he led hikes with schools and other interested organizations. A short year later, he was promoted to Park Ranger, which he did for twenty-eight years! Twelve of those years were at South Mountain, and fifteen at Papago Park, Camelback Mountain, and Piestewa Peak collectively.
Dan has lived in many places in Phoenix including Mesa, Tempe, and even in South Mountain inside city housing. After spending so much time in South Mountain and around South Phoenix, Dan had lost sight of the beauty that the community and park held and decided to take a break. Subsequently, he worked at Papago Park for awhile but luckily had the opportunity to promote as a Park Supervisor for South Mountain, and later became Park Manager. He says, “I wanted to come back… Everyday I go in and I’m like, I still love this place…”
As a Park Manager, Dan’s responsible for a lot of different things in the park. Mostly, he oversees operations at South Mountain. Currently they are working on their “five year improvement plan” leading to the park’s hundredth year. They’ve already redone Pima Canyon, the entryway of South Mountain Park, the big and little ramadas, and the roadways. So many more operations are yet to come, like new trails. However, South Mountain isn’t just a park, it’s also a conservation. Dan is working hard to keep the park’s plants, animals, and beauty protected.
Dan’s most proud of hitting all forty-eight states on bicycle, traveling to all fifty states (by winning a trip to Hawaii and going on a cruise to Alaska), and winning multiple State Fair competitions for his drawings. Professionally, he is proud of his idea for the Judith Tunnel Trail and the artwork he created for the signs. Although he did not get recognized at the time, the trail did win an award and he has the pleasure of knowing it was his idea. Not only did he do this, but he also created a hand-drawn map of South Mountain Park, all trails included, which was used in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Even though he’s had trouble as an introvert being in the public eye, he has learned to work through his struggles. Just like any job, Dan sometimes deals with negativity and errors along the way, but uses good communication to solve these problems. He says, “There’s still so much to learn…”
See some of his artwork here: http://azgronsethart.blogspot.com/
Planning to retire in June of 2024 for South Mountain Park’s centennial celebration, Dan hopes the park will stay a big attraction for Phoenix. The peacefulness and tranquility of the trails, diversity of each plant and animal, and history behind each petroglyph is what makes South Mountain Park unique. Dan also loves to see all the different kinds of people who have connections to the park. Some come for family reunions, and others have parents who worked in the mines. It is clear that South Mountain plays a big role in the history of South Phoenix. Dan says, “South Mountain Park needs to be reserved for the future generations…” Dan loved, and still loves what he does and believes that everyone has the ability to accomplish so much if they have a passion to do so. “If you feel you have more to offer, stay with it. Don’t give up… ‘Cause I didn’t.”
Student researchers: Marrisa Torres and Alexia Verdugo, Fall 2019