Paterson Great Falls National Monument is one of our new parks in eastern New Jersey. They’re doing some interesting things to build engagement in a city that is particularly economically depressed… One of the unique strategies that has emerged includes efforts to work with the community on a program that recognizes the food culture that is so incredibly diverse and positive for that city. Specifically, we offer a place where people can explore those kinds of things. Part of where I see the parks going, particularly as it relates to urban issues, is finding ways to connect with people that we offer a place to enjoy.
But ultimately our biggest roadblock has been not just convincing folks that national parks are a great place to go, or an interesting place to have an experience, but also that there is something to it being a national
park. Even in places like Philadelphia we have an awareness issue. People know the Liberty Bell very well, they know Independence Hall very wall. But they don’t necessarily associate them with the National
Park Service. Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City is similar. There are resources there that locals know very well, but they don’t necessarily associate it with the National Parks.
One of the things we did with the Centennial was a very broad-based and very basic awareness campaign called “Find Your Park
,” in which we let people know that we had a lot of parks that were actually national
parks. It was worth recognizing them as such because Congress recognized them as nationally important, nationally significant
That perception seems to exist for many people. They don’t think of the National Parks even having a presence in the Northeast.
And we do: We have a really amazing diversity of units. There’s Shenandoah [National Park], Acadia, and the Delaware Water Gap [National Recreation Area], and some of these iconic places. And we’ve got a million little historic sites: There’s Edison’s lab, there’s Theodore Roosevelt’s home on Sagamore Hill. Some of these places are really amazing but not many people get to see them. We also have some of the more unique structured sites. For instance, the Appalachian Trail is, of course, a pencil-thin wide and 2,000 miles long. The Captain John National Historic Trail is the only national historic water trail. And it goes from the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay all the way to New York State, and it’s a very unique construct for us as a park, as a protected area.
We have in other ways some uniqueness, too, just in terms of where we operate. From the historic battlefields to the newest park up in Katahdin in Maine, where you’re smack dab in the middle of a heavily worked forest landscape. So we’ve got the traditional almost-western park landscapes, but we’ve also got something that’s entirely our own.
How will the challenges facing these resources be affected by the recent presidential election? And do these challenges present particular opportunities for students who want to go in this direction for their careers?
During our Centennial celebration, our core goal was to connect with and inspire the next generation of park advocates and supporters. In some ways the basic call to action is for students and soon-to-be graduates to be thoughtful about how to be part of that. It’s almost trying to galvanize the next park movement. But to be honest, we don’t really know where the next park movement is going
. It is a bit of an uncertain future. But if we have great leaders and great people in our orbit, we can do amazing things. And I think that’s part of where we try to tie our broader goals — especially to our relevancy goals. We need a diversity of voices and we need folks helping and working and challenging us in lots of different ways. How do they play a role in that larger conservation community?
Beyond that, the core challenges at the global level for conservation are unchanged. We still need to be diligent and thoughtful and work hard, for instance, on climate change. That’s not going away. We have parks that are at risk. You have Gateway in New York City, Chesapeake Bay, the Cape Cod National Seashore, and other parks that are at risk. And climate change will be an element of what we need to be focusing on in terms of conservation challenges going forward.
Those things are largely unchanged. But one area that will continue to evolve and change is the question of how do we — as well as our supporters and partners — work towards those joint goals of conservation of our resources. If you like being part of a learning organization and if you are open to new ideas, then we want to hear from you. We are really excited about this new generation coming forward with new ideas on how we address these challenges best. How do we bring people into the fold and move forward?