Willis P. Kriz
Cornelius Amory Pugsley National Medal Award, 1989
Willis "Will" P. Kriz (1934 - ) received the Pugsley Medal in 1989 "for his assured leadership of the National Park Service's land acquisition program through the most turbulent period in its history. His leadership enabled the NPS to acquire some 20,000 tracts of land, adding 2.3 million acres to the National Park System."
Kriz grew up on a farm and went to high school in Lincoln, Nebraska. He graduated with a B.S. in agronomy and a ROTC commission from the University of Nebraska in 1956. His military orders did not require that he report for active military duty for another year and a half, so in the interim period he went to graduate school in the same department. After his active duty service in the Army, a friend who was in an appraiser's position with the Corps of Engineers at their Omaha regional office encouraged Kriz to seek a similar position. This led to Kriz's appointment as a realty specialist (trainee) and realty officer (1959 - 1965) with the Corps of Engineers where he learned the land acquisition business. During this time he also served with the US Army Reserve, achieving the rank of captain before his honorable discharge.
When the Corps was involved in an urgent and extensive program to acquire land for constructing missile silos in the early 1960s Kriz was assigned to work on this program. It culminated in him heading a small field office in South Dakota. However, when the crescendo of building silos passed the Corps had more people than they needed, which resulted in Kriz moving to the NPS at the agency's regional office which was back in Omaha. Soon after, he was assigned to a similar position at the western service center in San Francisco which undertook the realty services for the western half of the U.S.
The NPS realty procedures and organization were cumbersome and outmoded. Kriz reveled in the opportunity this provided to reinvigorate them and to update the realty procedures so they reflected contemporary best practice. His arrival at the NPS coincided with the beginning of an era of rapid growth and expansion of the National Park system. However, there were very few realty professionals in the NPS to expand this growth, which meant that Kriz assumed major responsibility for this expansion.
During his time in California, Kriz managed the acquisition of non-federal land within NPS units established before July 1959. He was responsible for the negotiation of a complex transaction through which NPS acquired from the state of Washington 2,200 acres of land, including extensive stands of old growth timber in Olympic National Park, in exchange for 5,160 acres of surplus cut-over and second-growth timber land outside the park. He also negotiated the purchase of Scotty's Castle in Death Valley National Monument, including the castle's contents, water rights, and 1,620 acres of land.
From 1970-71, Kriz was land acquisition officer at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. At Point Reyes he personally negotiated the acquisition of 10 dairy ranches, each larger than 1,000 acres and each valued at over $1 million. The acquisitions provided for preservation of the pastoral character of the Point Reyes Peninsula through long-term reservation of portions of the ranches by their former owners, while assuring immediate public access to the ocean beaches.
In 1971, Kriz became assistant chief of the land acquisition division in the NPS's Washington Office where he overviewed regional and field land acquisition offices and provided guidance on technical policy and procedural questions. In 1972, he moved on to become chief of the land acquisition division for the southeast region based in Atlanta, Georgia. During his seven years in that position, Kriz inaugurated the acquisition of lands at several major new units including, Cumberland, Canaveral and Cape Lookout National Seashore; Obed Wild and Scenic River; Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area; and Big Cypress National Preserve in addition to advancing the acquisition programs at several on-going projects. He personally negotiated an agreement with the state of Florida to establish a mechanism through which the state contributed $40 million toward acquisition of lands in the Big Cypress National Preserve. He also established a 140-person field office to accomplish the land acquisition program at Big Cypress, which was one of the largest ever undertaken by the federal government.
His success in heading the southeast region, led to Kriz being appointed chief of the NPS's land resources division in 1979 and he remained in that position for 15 years until his retirement in 1994. In this role, Kriz managed the service-wide land acquisition program with annual budgets of $40 to $100 million dollars, developed land acquisition policies and procedures for implementation throughout the NPS, and guided all acquisition proposals requiring higher level approval through the Department of the Interior and congressional committees.
In addition to overseeing and directing the land acquisition program of the NPS, Kriz was personally involved in numerous major acquisitions, including the following: settlement of the legislative taking of the major addition to Redwood National Park, California, at a cost of more than one billion dollars; acquisition of a conservation easement over 1,000 acres of the JY Ranch in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, through a multi-party land exchange for federal coal interests elsewhere in the state; and purchase of Santa Rosa Island and portions of Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, California. He was also personally involved in the settlement of the condemnation of North Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan; settlement of the legislative taking of a controversial addition to Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia; acquisition of 83,000 additional acres in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida; and negotiating an agreement exchanging the Phoenix Indian School for the 108,000 acres of land in Florida Panther Refuge.
Kriz's wife also worked for the NPS and in 1994 she had the opportunity to become assistant superintendent of Big Cypress National Preserve. To facilitate this, Kriz resigned from the NPS at that time and spent the next five years at Big Cypress until his wife retired. This closed the circle for him since he had been instrumental in acquiring this park in the beginning.
Kriz's negotiating skills and commitment contributed substantially to the expansion and integrity of the NPS system. He received many achievement awards from the NPS in recognition of his contributions and the Meritorious Service Award from the Department of Interior in 1992.