Lisa Hendy, a National Park Service ranger based at Grand Canyon National Park, is the recipient of this year's Harry Yount Award. (National Park Service)

A longtime park ranger assigned to the Grand Canyon will be honored Wednesday as the National Park Service’s top park ranger of the year.

Lisa Hendy is the recipient of the 2011 Harry Yount Award, the highest award given by the agency to a field ranger. Hendy, who’s been a law enforcement ranger in the park’s Canyon District since 2004, is due in Washington today to accept the honor.

Hendy is a veteran of several of the nation’s largest parks, including Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and Arches National Park.

Today, she leads cleanup efforts across the Grand Canyon national park, assists park visitors and serves as incident commander on 30 to 50 search and rescue operations that occur annually below the Grand Canyon rim. It’s a tricky task that can involve evacuating stranded visitors by air, or by hiking them out of the park on a stretcher.

In their formal nomination of Hendy, her bosses wrote that her “calm demeanor and willingness to take on any challenge have set the standard for other rangers to strive toward.”

Harry Yount was one of the Park Service’s earliest employees. He worked at Yellowstone National Park, one of the first parks in the 394-park system.

Here’s a Q&A with Hendy, edited for length:

Q.Why did you decide to become a park ranger?

I was a criminal justice major at Auburn University, but I did not want in any way to be stuck in a city or a car all the time.

I had a great professor who suggested I look into the National Park Service. I did, and I’ve never regretted it.

I think the Park Service has the best mission of any federal agency. We get to protect the most amazing places for the enjoyment of future generations. Our job is to make sure that some of the most spectacular monuments and places in the country are going to be there for the nation’s children and grandchildren.

You can be as frustrated with the federal government all you want, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want that to happen. It’s such a great mission.

One of your specialties is tricky search-and-rescue operations. What causes park visitors to need to be rescued?

I think a common denominator in all of them is a lack of humility in what the wilderness can really do and a lack of appreciation for the power of these wild places. There’s a percentage of them where it’s bad luck — you twist your ankle or something. But a large cause is a lack of humility.

Can you recall a particularly fun or cool job memory?

Probably one of the best memories is after a particularly grueling rescue, I came off of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and most of the rescue team had been out on an incident the night before, so there weren’t too many people available to come along.

We were able to pull off this rescue with only me on scene and a really good helicopter pilot. What made it the best memory was that when I got back, [Park Ranger] Kurt Oliver, my greatest mentor, was standing there, and he had a big smile on his face, and the look on his face said, “That’s one of my rangers.”

What’s the biggest misconception of park rangers?

That it’s all play and that these places are somehow inherently safe because they are so beautiful and peaceful. People let their guard down, and I think that they have no idea of some of the hazards that are presented out there and the things that we really contend with on a daily basis to keep them safe.

Like what?

Like 130-degree heat on the trails at the Grand Canyon. Or blizzards that blow in from the blind side of a mountain in Colorado. Or getting too close to a bear in Yellowstone. I think it’s great that people feel they’re safe from society out there, but sometimes they don’t appreciate how hazardous the places can be.

You’ve worked at Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Arches and Grand Canyon. Which one’s your favorite?

I’m not even going there! They’re all amazing in their own way. They all have something spectacular to offer.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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