A portrait of park chief Lisa Hendy. Hendy started the job in April after serving as chief ranger at Big Bend National Park in Texas. (Photo: Amelia Anne Photography)

The ceiling Lisa Hendy may be most familiar with is the one that swirls blue and vast above her head.

She's spent much of her life getting as close to it as possible.

Hendy has volunteered and worked at iconic American parks like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. And somehow, in between, she's managed to be a paramedic, firefighter and swiftwater rescuer.

Last month, she reached another summit, assuming the title of chief ranger for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

It's the first time in the park's 85-year history that a woman has held the job.

"It will be a pleasure to be involved in the efforts to protect a place that was so instrumental in defining my passions and ultimately my career," she noted in a press release sent to MNN.

Indeed, before starting the job, Hendy compared it to a homecoming. She's a native of Tennessee, which, along with North Carolina, borders the 522,419-acre park.

Along the way, she's served in seemingly every capacity under the sun — including, before her current gig, chief ranger at Big Bend National Park in Texas.

"Lisa has demonstrated incredible leadership in managing law enforcement, fire and search and rescue operations at some of the nation's busiest parks," National Park Service Superintendent Cassius Cash noted in the statement. "She's built strong programs by investing in local partnerships with neighboring agencies to help make areas safer for visitors and residents."

At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at least, her path to the top job was hardly a beaten one. So it's fitting that Hendy should "come home" to a park that has also faced many obstacles on its own way to national eminence.

Great Smoky Mountains, 1939 Great Smoky Mountains, 1939 (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

From the outset a lot of factors conspired against its very existence. The vision for a park that straddled Appalachia's Great Smoky Mountains was first conjured in 1923, when Knoxville businessman Willis P. Davis floated the idea among other influential families in the area. But at the time, that space was spoken for — by logging companies, many of them running roughshod over its pristine acres.

But eventually, enough funds were raised from the public and the government to buy out those competing interests.

And in 1934, a national park was born.

Aside from beautiful sunrises, Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers hiking and rafting opportunities. Aside from beautiful sunrises, Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers hiking and rafting opportunities. (Photo: Lamar Sellers/Shutterstock)

Today, with more than 11 million visitors every year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most popular park. And, owing to its massive population of trees, plant and animal species, the park has officially been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But among all the visitors who take in those world-acclaimed vistas, it's Hendy who savors the view — and its sky-high ceiling — the most.

Say hello to the first female chief ranger in this national park's 85-year history
Lisa Hendy is the first woman to become chief ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.