By Hannah E. Jones

Earlier this month, the Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy (CNPC) welcomed Brittany Jones as its first-ever executive director. The decision comes after the Board of Directors’ national search with over 100 qualified candidates and four rounds of interviews.

Brittany Jones stands, smiling with her arms crossed.
Brittany Jones.

The CNPC is the Friends Group and primary philanthropic partner of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA), which covers 15 park units along 48 miles of river. In 2022, CRNRA was the 21st most visited national park unit — higher on the list than Yellowstone National Park.

In this new position, Jones will guide the organization’s mission to promote environmental stewardship and a community of support for the CRNRA. She stepped into the role on July 10. 

Jones most recently served as executive director at the City of Kennesaw’s Smith-Gilbert Gardens. Born and raised in Miami, she would frequently visit the Everglades National Park and began “swooning over the National Park Service at a young age.” She describes her new role as an intersection between her two main passions — nature and nonprofit work.

“I’ve been a nature-lover since I could walk, I was outside until the sun went down,” Jones said. “I initially worked in the county park system in Miami and next, in museums and public gardens. [They’ve] all been places of tremendous beauty, but parks are where my heart is.”

The executive director role was created to facilitate the completion of the park’s first-ever Comprehensive Trails Management Plan. About a year ago, an anonymous donor donated $600,000 to find a leader who will ensure that the monumental project is successful.

While the CRNRA was established 45 years ago, the park has never formally created a trail network. Most of the current trails are old roads, utility corridors and legacy social trails, which are pathways worn down over time by visitors. 

However, the lack of planning has led to erosion and unsafe walking conditions throughout the park, leading to an official planning process that began in 2016 to revamp the network of trails. The new plan will add 33 miles to the trail network, a 48 percent increase from the park’s current 67 miles.

A boardwalk over water.
The Chattahoochee River is home to over 240 bird species and more than 20 types of fish. (Photo by Shawn Taylor, courtesy of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.)

“This donor was like, ‘I want to see this trail plan enacted, and I know that can’t happen [with only] a volunteer board,’” CNPC Board President Graham Dorian said. “That’s what brought us to hiring Brittany, so you can imagine how excited we are.”

Still in the early days, Jones will continue to meet with the team and visit each of the CRNRA’s park units. The team is also pursuing a name change for the CRNRA, wanting to become designated as a National Park rather than a National Recreation Area. 

This would take “a literal act of Congress to change the name to the Chattahoochee River National Park,” Dorian explained. However, the day-to-day operations at the park wouldn’t change and the new name would put the park further on the national map. SaportaReport will continue to follow this story.

Overall, Jones said that she’s proud to be selected as the inaugural executive director, and plans to foster a robust support system for the CRNRA.

“It’s exciting and a big sense of pride for me, personally,” Jones said. “I get to create a legacy for myself but, in a bigger picture, it’s a legacy for the Conservancy. It’s only going to grow, get bigger and be better. I love being at ground level and being able to build it up with the board.”

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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