Papers of Margaret A. Johnston
Scope and Contents
This collection consists of documents dated 1970-2009. Most materials relate to Johnston's career in the National Park Service. Other items include personal writings, a biography written by her husband, and memorabilia. Material types include documents, photographs, CDs, DVDs and artifacts.
- Johnston, Margaret A., 1952-2008 (Person)
Restrictions on Access
There are no access restrictions on this collection. However, the collection is stored off-site, so advance notice is required.
Restrictions on Use
Not all of the material in the collection is in the public domain. Researchers are responsible for addressing copyright issues.
Margaret A. Johnston, known by friends and family as Maggie, worked in a variety of roles (including interpretation, law enforcement, and as a superintendent) for the National Park Service (NPS) from 1974 until her 2007 retirement. Johnston's NPS career encompassed assignments across the United States, from California's Golden Gate Recreation Area to New York's Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island and many locations in between, including the Florissant Fossil Beds in central Colorado.
Johnston was born on March 5, 1952 in Oakland, California. Her parents divorced when she was two years old, and she and her sister grew up in their mother's home. During her youth the family visited National Parks, skied, hiked, and camped, and she developed a strong work ethic and sense of discipline as she assisted at her mother's pharmacy. Johnston was employed as a counselor-in-training at Camp Sierra while in high school, and after graduation worked at a summer job at a college museum in Sitka, Alaska.
Johnston enrolled in the nursing program at San Francisco University in 1971, but eventually switched to Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Sciences, graduating cum laude in May 1974. During her senior year she served as a college intern at Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in the planning division. When this position ended, her supervisor offered her a job as a GS 4 Park Technician tasked with locating, photographing, and documenting over 300 buildings. Her excellent work led to a position as a seasonal park ranger at Alcatraz Island, where she guided interpretive tours.
From Alcatraz, Johnston travelled to the East Coast to accept a seasonal job as the lead interpreter for the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island from May 1976 to November 1976, and then returned to GGNRA to patrol the district and give interpretive talks. Heading back to the East Coast to accept a seasonal GS 6 supervisory job at C and O Canal National Historic Park, she led living history tours and supervised 14 staff members.
In 1977 Johnston accepted a permanent GS 5 General Park Technician position at GGNRA, where she participated in rescues and body recoveries. Her lack of authority while accomplishing this work fueled her desire to become a law enforcement officer. In October 1977 Johnston married Lee, a ranger from GGNRA. The marriage ended in divorce in 1984.
In 1979 her request for a law enforcement National Park position was denied, which led to a number of interviews and articles. In 1980 Johnston accepted a GS 7 interpretive ranger job at Reyes National Seashore, where her husband Lee was a law enforcement patrol officer. Two years later, she took a leave of absence to attend a seasonal law enforcement ranger academy offered through Santa Rosa Junior College. Finally, in 1984 a law enforcement position became available. Due to her determination and with assistance from South District law enforcement supervisor Steve Wolfe, Johnston was offered the job. She received a Point Reyes law enforcement commission in October 1984.
Johnston accepted a GS 9 district ranger assignment in the Grapevine district at Death Valley in 1985. While in Death Valley she dealt with high temperatures, quickly changing weather, rattlesnakes, burros, and even drug smugglers. In 1988 she moved to Canyonlands to serve as a Needles district ranger, where she worked with cultural resource protection and learned how to navigate the rugged canyon roads. She hired James "Jim" McChristal (who later became her husband) as the backcountry archeological protection ranger in 1990.
By the spring of 1991, Johnston had accepted a position as the district ranger at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. She was hired to prevent elk poaching and protect all park resources, but since it was a small park she ended up supervising many different areas, including visitor protection and interpretation. While at Florissant Fossil Beds she served twice as the acting superintendent, helped to sponsor the fourth National Park Service Conference of Fossil Resources, and sponsored the 25th anniversary of Florissant.
The year of 1998 brought high and low points in Johnston's life. She married Jim McChristal in January, moved to New Mexico to accept a position as the superintendent of Capulin Volcano National Monument in February, and was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in June. After extensive treatment including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, she continued her work as an affirmation of her life. At Capulin Volcano National Monument, Johnston worked with the Jicarilla Apache tribe. She obtained funding for a seasonal botanist position, a summer youth conservation corps program, and local volunteer fire departments, and engaged in planning for long term use and protection.
In 2005 Johnston began work as the superintendent of the Golden Spike National Historic Site. By February 2006 the cancer had moved to her liver, and she gave up her commission later that spring. In late summer of 2007 the Regional Office and the Utah State Office presented her with the Chief Ranger's retirement badge in recognition of her career in law enforcement. That fall she attended the Utah Quarter Ceremony, pushing the button to print a quarter representing Golden Spike National Historic Site and the National Park Service.
At the end of 2007 Johnston was told that she had only weeks to live. She spent her remaining days at home with her husband, sister, and cat, eating ice cream and reading poetry. Early in the morning of the January 4, 2008, Maggie Johnston set off on her final adventure.
0.5 linear feet (1 document case)
Language of Materials
Margaret A. Johnston worked in a variety of roles (including interpretation, law enforcement, and as a superintendent) for the National Park Service (NPS) from 1974 until her 2007 retirement. Her work broke many barriers for females in the Park Service. The bulk of the collection consists of items highlighting Johnston's NPS career. Additional materials include Johnston's personal writings, a biography written by her husband, and memorabilia.
The collection consists of 1 series in 1 document case:
Series 1: Records
James McChristal donated the collection to the Agricultural and Natural Resources Archive on October 15, 2013.
The materials were preserved in clear archival sleeves when donated, so little processing was needed. Items were grouped in file folders by name of National Park (if applicable) or type of material. Processing was completed in January 2020.
- Capulin Volcano National Monument (N.M.)
- Compact discs.
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (Colo.)
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area (Calif.)
- Golden Spike National Historic Site (Utah)
- Johnston, Margaret A., 1952-2008
- National parks and reserves -- United States
- United States. National Park Service
- Women park rangers
- Guide to the Papers of Margaret A. Johnston
- Edited Full Draft
- Prepared by Hailey Doucette and Linda M. Meyer
- Copyright 2020
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
Part of the CSU Libraries Archives & Special Collections Repository
Fort Collins Colorado 80523-1019 USA