Ignatius "Nash" Castro (1920-2018) received the Pugsley Medal on two occasions. The first medal was awarded in 1969 for his contributions to the National Capital Parks system in Washington D.C. After 30 years with the National Park Service, Castro retired and commenced a second career of 21 years as executive director, Palisades Interstate Park Commission and was again awarded the Pugsley Medal in 1979 "for his implementation and expansion of the Commission's program of conservation, historic preservation, and environmental education with consequential enhancement of the value of its parks and historic site; for recreational and cultural purposes for the benefit of the public."
Castro was a native of Arizona, but he attended George Washington University in Washington D.C. and was a naval aviator in World War II. His 30-year association with the NPS began at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona in 1939. He then served at the Hawaii National Park as assistant superintendent. Following this, Castro arrived at the Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, which was responsible for overseeing such parks as Yellowstone, Glacier, GrandTeton, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rushmore, and Badland National Monuments.
After that assignment, he was promoted to assistant director of the National Capital Region in Washington D.C. in 1961, and advanced into the directorship of that system before leaving the NPS and going to the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission in 1969. Thus, at the end of the 1960s at the age of 49, Castro as NPS regional director for the National Capital Parks, was near the pinnacle of his profession, standing among a select few who exercised senior administrative and management influence over the NPS's policies, priorities, and style. Unlike more traditional NPS operations that focused on natural areas, historic and archeological sites, battlegrounds, and outdoor recreation areas usually far removed from city centers, Castro was responsible for a full-blown urban park operation.
Among his responsibilities in this position, he assisted Lady Bird Johnson, who was using her position as First Lady to advance beautification projects throughout the nation. Indeed, Lady Bird Johnson called him "indispensable" for his work in beautifying Washington D.C. Castro was a consummate public servant. He efficiently carried out the wishes of the First Lady where the resources of the NPS were needed, and he did so with discretion and good humor. The square-faced, wiry-haired Castro became a familiar figure at Lady Bird's side in her journeys around Washington D.C. His efforts were central to producing the beautification success that recast the city's look.
Mrs. Johnson had also enlisted the assistance of Laurance Rockefeller (Pugsley Medal 2005), and because Castro traveled with Mrs. Johnson to beautification projects, they came to know each other quite well. Rockefeller, in his role as chair of the New York Council of Parks, tried to recruit Castro to become director of the state park system in 1966, but Castro rejected the overture. In 1969, as chair of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC), Rockefeller approached Castro, this time to be the PIPC's executive director. Castro accepted because of “the prospect of working with a real star of the conservation fraternity, Laurance S. Rockefeller.”
Soon after his appointment, Castro was involved in negotiations that ultimately resulted in the acquisition of the 13,000-acre Minnewaska State Park in an area of great beauty surrounding Lake Minnewaska. This acquisition was one of his proudest accomplishments, and he regarded it as the “uncut jewel of the system." After two century-old Catskill mountain houses were destroyed by fire in the 1970s, private developers proposed new resorts on the site. Castro and others took their case for preserving the land to Rotary Club luncheons and legislative conclaves, winning appropriations from New York State that brought the park into the Palisades system. Castro said, “These opportunities will never exist again; saving land is far more important than erecting new park buildings." The negotiations for the final components of Minnewaska State Park were not completed until1986, seventeen years after he initiated them. The negotiations for some of the property were difficult and contentious, but Castro persevered. The interactions with Marriott Corporation that wanted to develop part of it as a golf course and resort were especially protracted, involving multiple lawsuits before Marriott ultimately withdrew. In acquiring this property, the PIPC gained permanent stewardship of one of the premier park ecosystems in the eastern United States.
During his 21-year tenure at PIPC, the park system increased from 66,000 to 89,000 acres. Immediately before his retirement, Castro distilled the experience of 50 years in parks administration and the legacy of 90 years of Palisades history in an eloquent volume, the "Second Century Plan" for the PIPC. His perspective, at 70, was described as being “as broad as the view from Bear Mountain,” a promontory where he often sought inspiration, and “as fine as the petals of a bachelor's button,” one of the many wildflowers he planted in the medians of the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
During his latter years at PIPC, Castro was immersed in the battle to save Sterling Forest. The 17,000-acre forest was in the hands of developers who wanted to subdivide it. The issue was prominent at the time of his retirement in 1990, after half a century of public service. Its denouement did not occur until later in the 1990s when negotiations and the finances to save it were successfully concluded by his namesake Bernadette Castro (Pugsley Medal 2002), and others, in her role as Commissioner of New York State Parks. However, Nash Castro continued to be of immense assistance in saving Sterling Forest after his retirement through his role as one of the five trustees of a Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace charitable fund that specialized in Hudson River Valley conservation activity. In this position, he was able to direct $5 million to help acquire the forest. He reflected that “one of the biggest joys I had as director of this park commission was the inauguration of our summer youth work program.” Established in 1981 with a grant from the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Fund, and in cooperation with local church groups, the program concentrated on hiring youngsters from the ghettos of New York. As part of the work program, these young people were provided with a helmet, gloves, work shirt and the wherewithal to restore much of the 300 miles of trails in PIPC parks. Participants took part in environmental workshops and river trips on the Clearwater:
We exposed them to nature in ways they would never have had an opportunity for otherwise. I'd like to think that their experience gave them a basic understanding of the meaning of the environment. For many of these kids, bused across the Hudson River, it was their first time in a setting such as the Palisades. They'd never been across the river. They'd never been in the woods. It was their first real exposure to nature.
Castro believed that the 100,000 acres of green in the PIPC will, in time, become the equivalent of Central Park to Manhattan – a well-loved oasis in the midst of an increasingly crowded New York metropolis. This archipelago of separate parks, parkways, and historic sites extending from New Jersey's Bergen County to New York's Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties, which comprises the Palisades Interstate Park system, is the largest region in the New York State parks system. It is visited annually by almost 10 million people. Its rocky cliffs, cascading streams, and forested shores extend from Fort Lee to Kingston, New York. They include 23 park sites, ranging in size from the 13,000-acre Minnewaska State Park in Ulster County to 33-acre Fort Lee Historic Park. In between are the beloved and vast Harriman and Bear Mountain state parks, which draw hundreds of thousands each year, each of them jewels of the PIPC system. Nowhere else in America is the problem of balancing a park’s preservation with its heavy use quite so acute. As the playground of the most populous region in the country, it offers untrammeled wildness in places where congestion, litter and vandalism can rival that found in some city parks.
After his retirement from the Palisades Interstate Park Commission in 1990, Castro joined Laurance S. Rockefeller's staff as an environmental consultant. He worked closely with Rockefeller and others, creating Vermont's first national park site in Woodstock, Mrs. Rockefeller 's ancestral home. Called the Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park, the 555-acre site celebrates the history of conservation and the lives of Conservationists George Perkins Marsh, Frederick Billings, and Rockefeller. In Castro’s words, “Mr. Rockefeller was the most important American conservationist in the second half of the 20th century."
To explain how he viewed his 50 years of public service in the natural resources field, Castro described a visit to one of Britain's great estates. The single most impressive thing he saw was the lawn. He asked his companion on the trip, a noted landscape architect, how the grass had achieved such perfection. "My friend replied, 'You water it every week, mow it every 10 days, and feed it twice a year for 400 years,' " Castro recalled "That's how I feel about parks – what we do for today is not for today, it's for the future.”
Binnewies, Robert O. (2001) Palisades: 100,000 acres in 100 years, New York: Fordham University Press.
Scarimbolu, Nicholas. (1990,August/September). Keeper of the wilderness. Orange Magazine.
Washburn, Lindy. (1990, December 30). Nash Castro, Shield of our wilder places. The Record