Stanly native appointed to oversee NC Zoo and state parks

ALBEMARLE — Almost a century after his grandfather helped build Morrow Mountain State Park, Jeff Michael has seen the generational career path of his family come full circle.  

Secretary Reid Wilson, head of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, announced on April 7 that Michael — a Stanly County native and Davidson resident — has been appointed as the new deputy secretary for Natural Resources for the state.  

In his new role, which begins on May 1, Michael will be in charge of managing the Division of State Parks and Recreation, the Division of Land and Water Stewardship, as well as the N.C. Zoo, Aquariums and Museum of Natural Sciences.  

“I look forward to the new perspectives and vision that Jeff Michael will bring to our team,” Wilson said in a department press release. “His experience in conservation, natural resource protection, and economic development will be a great asset to the department.” 

Michael has spent the past 18 years as the director of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute after previously directing the Yadkin-Pee Dee Lakes Project and Land Trust for Central N.C. 

As a former member of the Morrow Mountain State Park Advisory Committee board, Michael told SCJ during an April 12 phone interview that his experience growing up “in the shadow of Morrow Mountain” in between Albemarle and Badin has had an impact on both his career and his conservationist outlook on his home state that is rooted in his family’s history.  

During the 1930s, Michael’s grandfather worked as a tenant farmer and was one of many Stanly locals who were hired to assist in the building of Morrow Mountain State Park. 

“To think that nearly a century later, his grandson has an opportunity to help steward that resource among others across the state; the announcement was exciting on a personal level because of my connection to Morrow Mountain State Park,” Michael said on the appointment to his new job. “I grew up loving that park and everything it means to the people in the state, and in that community in particular.” 

In conjunction with career accomplishments in various conservation outlets, Michael will enter his new deputy secretarial role with an extensive knowledge of urban planning.  

This past November, Michael published an article for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, entitled “Small Towns Like Badin Have Lessons For Big Cities Like Charlotte,” that explores the future of the garden-city method for urban development.  

In the piece, he reminisces on his childhood at Badin Elementary School, a place where he recalls “peering out the class windows” with intrigue at the French Colonial style of Badin’s town architecture, quadruplex apartments and Alcoa aluminum smelting plant.  

“So much of what I’ve done professionally, I’ve traced back to that place,” Michael said on his personal ties to Badin. “There are so many interesting parallels to what was created 100 years ago in places like Badin and Morrow Mountain to the conversations we’re having today about the future of public spaces. I’m hoping that in addition to helping the leaders of the various state agencies, there will be an opportunity to continue some of that work talking about the role that these state assets play in their communities.” 

In the meantime, Michael admits he has a “learning curve” to familiarize himself with all the factors of his job, but that he’s looking forward to the educational opportunity, particularly when it comes to managing the N.C. Zoo, which stands as the largest natural-habitat zoo in the world.  

“I really am excited, because I’ve got four young kids and they think that’s probably the coolest aspect of my new job — that, and the aquarium. I love this state deeply, and it’s a very diverse state where this department touches every aspect of it.”