FRANKFORT — Secretary of State Elaine Walker will be the new commissioner of the state Department of Parks.
Walker, who has been the secretary of state since she was appointed last January by Gov. Steve Beshear, will begin her duties with state parks on Jan. 2, said Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Marcheta Sparrow. Walker, who announced in October that she had breast cancer, lost a bid for a full four-year term as secretary of state in May's Democratic primary election.
Walker, who was mayor of Bowling Green for six years, replaces Gerry van der Meer, who resigned after nearly four years as state parks commissioner.
Van der Meer, of Nicholasville, said in a phone interview that he is leaving voluntarily.
"When I first started out in this job, I made a commitment for four years," he said. "While it has been a wonderful experience, it has been demanding and challenging. It's healthy for new blood to come in. I have nothing but the highest admiration for Governor Beshear and Secretary Sparrow."
Van der Meer said he is not ready to retire but doesn't know what he will do next.
Sparrow thanked van der Meer for his "hard work and dedication" and said Walker's experience as a manager would be beneficial for state parks.
"Elaine has demonstrated her skills as a mayor and as secretary of state, and we look forward to having her oversee our park system," Sparrow said.
The Kentucky State Parks system is made up of 51 parks, including resorts, recreation parks and historic sites. The department has about 900 full-time employees.
The parks cover about 45,900 acres and include attractions including Cumberland Falls, Natural Bridge, My Old Kentucky Home and three resorts in the Land Between the Lakes region. It has 18 golf courses, more than 250 miles of hiking trails, restaurants, campgrounds, marinas and a variety of recreational programs.
Deputy Parks Commissioner Steve Brooks will head the department during the interim period.