National Park Service Issues 5-Year "Call To Action" Plan For Moving Toward Its Second Century

The National Park Service has produced a strategy for moving forward into its second century.

A more expansive, and inclusive, National Park System, stronger educational outreach, and a revised approach for managing today's natural and cultural resource challenges are among the goals laid out in a blueprint for leading the National Park Service into its second century.

The 24-page A Call To Action, delivered by Park Service Director Jon Jarvis to Park Service employees across the nation during a video conference last Thursday, is built around four themes: Connecting People to Parks, Advancing the NPS Education Mission, Preserving America's Special Places, and Enhancing Professional and Organizational Excellence.

The 36 action points that fall under those themes include many suggestions contained in the Second Century initiative launched in 2008 by the National Parks Conservation Association. That effort produced a report that suggested directions the Park Service take on education, science and natural resources, connecting people to the parks, cultural resource and historic preservation, and even funding issues.

Though some see the Call to Action as overly broad, it also can be seen as bold and aggressive. More so in that it doesn't call for any additional funding beyond current levels.

By the Park Service centennial in 2016 the document calls for an analytic approach to creating "a national system of parks and protected sites (rivers, heritage areas, trails, and landmarks) that fully represents our natural resources and the nation's cultural experience."

Too, it sets a goal of reaching a quarter of all students in grades K-12 through a mix of real and virtual fieldtrips to the parks, teacher training, and classroom and on-line source materials. And it envisions a $1 billion endowment created through philanthropy that would be used to support the parks.

While the document has not officially been introduced to the public, it is available via the Park Service's website, and the director is expected to hold a media conference in the near future.

According to a back page of the document, input for the action plan was obtained from various groups, ranging from top Park Service managers and the National Education Council to the National Park Foundation. But the seeming lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the process troubles Alfred Runte, a historian who long has followed the Park Service and is the author of National Parks, The American Experience, now in its fourth edition.

"My gut reaction is the same as it was for the 75th anniversary in 1991," Mr. Runte said Sunday, referring to the Park Service conference in Vail, Colo., that resulted in the Vail Agenda that was intended to guide the agency into the 21st century. "I keep thinking of all the people the Park Service is 'leaving out' from these roundtables and pre-centennial 'reports.'

"This document is itself unsigned; not a single author takes accountability," he added. "It is vision by committee, by 'contributors,' and I think most of the so-called vision is anything but. The cover alone leaves me cold. What do five kids jumping in a lake have to do with the national park idea? If I have to caption the idea, it is no idea. Simply, the idea should speak for itself. This is another document looking for an idea, hence its cliché-riddled, shotgun approach.

"Bottom line: Will the National Park Service, as it did in 1991, leave every 'outsider' (i.e., non-bureaucrat) out in the cold?" wondered Dr. Runte. "Is there no room at the table for those teachers, scholars, and 'contributors' who happen to be in private life? Is every 'partner' to remain impersonal, 'foundation this' or 'council that'? Again, no authors, no accountability, no ideas tied to a single, authoritative voice?"

Tom Kiernan, NPCA president, said the Call to Action was "a very strong and important step towards ensuring our spectacular national park landscapes, wildlife, and American history and heritage are better protected for future generations.”

At the same time, the NPCA chief called on the Obama administration and Congress to "confront the full array of park challenges and opportunities" addressed in the Second Century report.

"Such work includes improving air and water quality, managing invasive species, reintroducing native wildlife, improving cultural resource conditions, and addressing chronic funding shortfalls," NPCA said in a release.

Among other things, the vision laid out in the Call to Action document calls for:

* Strengthening the Park Service's efforts to connect with all generations and races;

* Expanding the National Park System by submitting to Congress a detailed plan that "delineates the ecological regions, cultural themes, and stories of diverse communities that are not currently protected and interpreted;"

* Boosting connections with younger generations by, among other strategies, involving "at least 10,000 youth each year in a multi-year progression of experiences from education programs to internship/volunteer opportunities to employment;"

* Connecting urban communities to the outdoors through a program revolving around parks, greenways, trails and waterways;

* Introducing new audiences to the national parks through an arts outreach program that would involve "25 artist led expeditions that involve youth in creating new expressions of the park experience..."

While ambitious in many areas -- the report calls for developing a "contemporary version" of the Leopold Report (a 1963 report on managing wildlife), promoting creation of "continuous corridors" to support ecosystems, and restoration of three American bison populations somewhere in the central and western United States -- some question whether the report isn't too wide-ranging.

"It's gratifying to see that finally something came out from the NPS that acknowledges the hard work and excellent recommendations of the NPS Second Century Commission," said Bill Wade, chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees' Executive Council. "I worry, though, that trying to 'cover the waterfront' -- as this document apparently does -- at the beginning of a time of austerity will be seen as 'pie in the sky' and will be ignored by many both in and outside the NPS.

"I'd rather have seen some focus, or priority, on fewer things where a real difference might be made over the next few years, and an acknowledgment that the other things, while important, will have to wait," Mr. Wade said.

Rick Smith, a member of the Executive Council, agreed.

"The echoes from the 2nd Century Commission are welcome, but doing a couple things well is better than starting a lot of things and then being unable to finish most of them," he said.

Back at the NPCA, though, Ron Tipon sees the document as a "substantial" strategy for leading the Park Service into its second century. The desire to see an analytic formula for adding units to the National Park System has long been needed, said Mr. Tipton, the group's senior vice president for policy.

"I think that they framed that recommendation the right way," he said. "That one is of particular importance to us because it makes all kinds of sense to come up with a plan to guide future expansion of the system. Both because that’s a logical thing to do -- and we might not agree with the whole plan, I’m not saying the plan will dictate everything -- but right now it’s so haphazard with Congress.

"Besides, I think it is a way of saying, in some ways to what’s a skeptial Congress right now, and future administrations, 'Look, we’ve got criteria for determining whether areas belong in the system or are needed in the system. And we’re going to evaluate any proposal or any congressionally directed special resource study that way.'"

While Mr. Tipton agreed that the plan could be seen as overly broad, he noted that many of the action points the Park Service could implement with relatively little effort.

National Park Foundation officials, who would play a key role in developing the $1 billion endowment, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Comments

Alfred Runte says: "The cover alone leaves me cold. What do five kids jumping in a lake have to do with the national park idea?"

I thought exactly the same thing when I saw the cover in your article. Although you can't tell a book by its cover, it, nevertheless, doesn't bode well.

Harrumph! Are kids even allowed to jump off NPS docks (more properly
known as projecting hydratic access structures, or NPS-PHAS)?
Should
kids really be allowed in national parks at all? They often seem
insufficiently reverent. They certainly don't have the autodidactically
aquired biology and environmental qualifications that we'd like to see.
I'm
sure, however, that the "artisit-led expeditions" will have young
people clammering for more. What better way to inspire youth admiration
of the NPS system — and much less messy than jumping off docks, swimming
and other youthful idylls.

Kids are allowed in the national parks, and kids should be encouraged to visit the national parks -- by all means.
The issue is with the choice of the cover. Jumping off a dock is not an activity traditionally associated with national park visitation. Why not show kids hiking down a trail in the Grand Canyon, or up to Vernal Falls in Yosemite (provided they stay on the right side of the railings at the top)?

Perhaps the cover is meant to suggest that, since the "traditional" NPS offerings aren't wildly successful in attracting visitors under the age of about 65, the agency is looking to present a more vibrant, youth-friendly approach to recreation. Yes -- gasp -- recreation!

Hiking IS recreation.
When I was in Yosemite last month, there were young people all over the place, much younger than 65.

Yes, Yosemite is a popular park. I hear people even go swimming there -- might make a nice photograph.

Mark E:
Your line of thinking is in line with many people who believe that in order to "preserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations" the parks should be more selective in the audiance that we attract and allow into the system. However, to restrict enterance into the parks to adults only would potentially serve to cripple the system and would further endanger our beloved National Parks. Conservation is a product of education and experience. I would not be a park ranger today if not for my experiences as a child that thrust me into the graduer and beauty of the park system. I have spent much of my high school years volunteering and working for the NPS because of the passion instilled in me at a young age, a passion that I look forward to one day sharing with my own children. Had the parks been closed to me until whatever age deemed "appropriate," I would have instead spent my childhood looking at photos from my parents' travels and learning about the parks in books rather than lighting up with joy at the eruption of Old Faithful and the the firing of a cannon in Gettysburg. And if the age for admittance were 18, the "magic number" seemingly that separates adulthood from childhood, I would be waiting another four months from now before the parks would be open for me to explore and inevitably fall in love with. Don't kill the system by constricting the populace allowed within. Now, more than ever, it is imapritive for the the conservation of our society and our parks that America's youth be encouraged and given the opportunity to experience America at her finest.


In reference to the document cover choice, remember The Peter Principle is alive and promoted within
the NPS for all kinds of justifications like getting your friend promoted beyond any merit issues.
So, surely, somewhere in this document, one of these promoted NPS Bureaucrats will suggest changing
the Arrowhead symbol back to Enviro-Man-Woman. Law enforcement personnel generally have
little respect for natural history-Science accurate information; maintenance personnel are generally
only interested in their generous salaries, and the so-called interpreters know only one language and
many really haven't done their homework providing the visitor with a dose of misinformation
but via politically-correct language. So, the future of The NPS given the reality of major future budget
cuts is not very encouraging for Resource Science Issues especially given the Agency decision-makers may have
lost perspective and understanding of their orginial NPS Mission Statement and historical educational legacy.

Anon--
You visit different parks than I do. Out here (urban California), $25-36K/yr isn't a generous salary given the cost of living; most interpreters speak Spanish, some Portugese, fewer French, most have living history characters with back-stories for 2 if not 3 eras, program audio is in 3 or 4 languages (plus closed-captioning and broadcast to newfangled hearing assist devices); interpretive rangers lead programs for schools explicitly tied in to the state curriculum for grades 3-5; the lead LE ranger is an incredible interpreter for night skies, and the LE ranger who's been here the longest knows all the plants and was personally responsible for using the one T&E species here for revegetation sewerage system. As a natural resource scientist I can agree with Mike Soukup's statement about "a mission to die for, and a budget that is killing us", but what's actually in the report and the followup documents is about improving resource conditions, improving park science, and improving education in an era of at most flat budgets.
Then again, I interpreted Mark E's first comment as sarcasm, so apologies in advance if I mis-interpreted what you meant.

Anonymous, it certainly sounds as if you have some kind of agenda you're trying to grind.

How about some transparency to help the rest of us understand who you are and why you're saying these things? Perhaps there is some validity to your comments, but without some background information to explain them, they seem otherwise to be nothing more than a pile of sour grapes.

While it is true that a conservation or preservation agenda has never been much of a part of the Obama-Salazar agenda, in fairness they can demonstrate that fewer and fewer kids are getting out of doors. The First Lady has made a point and a pitch for attacking childhood obesity, especially in urban areas. You can look up Salazar's program, "America's Great Outdoors." If there is a focus to their programs it is to get kids closer to the Wild, or actually any kind of natural or recreation experience. There seem to be hard numbers backing up the fear that when this generation are the age of their parents or grandparents, they will not visit parks or any other conservation or recreation area.

So unless you have not been paying attention at all, it should surprise no one that childhood recreation and obesity prevention is the agenda, and I would guess Secretary Salazar just loves that cover.

It is true there is a secondary theme of the America's Great Outdoors, although it is so hard to find you wonder if Salazar is afraid of it, and that is more local federal, but especially, local lands need to be protected as local parks, and federal money should be used to make it easier for local govts. to preserve land for local management.

The concern we see here that the lack of focus is a problem may not be as big a problem as some of our friends are saying in this article. Because, if you look at the 36 action goals assigned to different people, almost all of them are really the same thing, connecting young or unrepresented people to parks, and simply goes through the different kinds of existing programs to pressure them to emphasize youth, diversity and partnership. Some of the action items are even just based on a certain cluster of parks in a key locality, to kick them into more public engagement and more imagination.

Arguably, the "Fill in the Blanks" -- the perennial call to "complete" or "round out" the NPS Plan for a complete National Park System, is one of the only things focusing on the traditional mission of the NPS, but even that would be an opportunity to expand the base of supporters.

As far as parkland preservation is concerned, Secretary Salazar has overwhelmed the professional budget for projects by a VERY few high ticket projects that he has some personal connection with, like a public appearance. For better or worse, never have the normal line item projects of the NPS been so ursurped.

Look at this another way. There is no doubt people and partners in the field have for years innovated cutting edge engagement strategies and partnership preservation strategies. BUT, there is little organized use of these skills, they are not considered a tool kit, no one seems to know them all. There is practically no cross-training, where in order to be promoted you need first to develop a set of job experiences working at these emerging skills. NPS tends to work with the same outside youth training partnerships, and it makes sense also in that case to shake things up a little, bring more people in, do more cross training, learn from each other.

I strongly agree it would have been great if the primary genius of the National Park Idea had been a focus of this Administration. But, look what happened. When the Obama team were developing their ideas, there was very little infusion of primary preservation opportunities. Most disgracefully, the previous Director and transition team did less in the way of presenting ideas and options to the Obama Transition team in advance of the Presidential inauguration. In fact, at a time in previous administrations when the leadership of the NPS would be knocking itself out preparing briefings and presentations, the previous Director and the holdovers were not even in the game, and tended to go home nlt 5:00 PM right throught the fall and into the winter of 2008.

And, thanks to general obstruction in Washington, we did not even get a new director of the National Park Service until A YEAR late, way past the time the Administration had set its agenda. No doubt, this Director was told what the agenda was. It is obvious he is trying to expand the existing scope to include something more; another reason for complicated goals. Get real, folks! We should be happy for some of those additions, because he certainly was in no position to eliminate the Administrations prime goals.

So for those who love parks and care about a preservation agenda, much more effort is really required if you want your way reflected in the goals of an incoming administration. With its urban background, this administration came in thinking about jobs for kids now as a set up to future employment, urban areas, youth health and education, and energy efficiency. That's it. From Chicago, those seemed like obvious goals.

And Salazar sees himself as someone who can dive into some conundrum at the last minute, and have everybody emerge because of him with a smile. That is why he is dumping money into complicated development projects, not environmental controversies and preservation challenges. That is why he deslisted the grey wolf. He just announced a program to protect the headwaters of the Everglades, NOT by the NPS or the FWS acquiring land to be owned by the federal government, but by partnership preservation strategies and easements with local ranchers and local governments.

Whatever Mike Painter and Alfred Runte think, this Administration either really understands just how bad the political situation is today and what it can and cannot tolerate, or it is not looking for a fight like President Carter had in his "War on the West."

So, can the votes be gathered to really fight for the traditional National Park Idea? Because if not, then maybe they have a point to find whatever votes can be found in a population that, unlike our parents, had NO experience as kids growning up with nature and recreation. That is why kids on the cover are jumping into a lake, with the kid on the left dangerously close to hitting an obstacle. If you want something else, you better fight for it because a lot of people have made the decision that no one WILL fight for it.

Anon's mildly snarky comment on NPS personnel is a classic "the glass is half-empty statement." I can think of examples that fit his generalizations, but I can also think of many that don't. I recall one LE ranger who knows the diverse resources of his area absolutely cold, and who is an active participant and supporter of research efforts therein. He is also a crack shot. I've worked with many in maintenance who are highly informed and conscientious in their work. Workplace speccialization encourages tunnel vision, and not everyone can overcome that tendency and achieve a broad outlook.
I agree that the weird cover is a loser. If you look closely, I think you will conclude that the kid on the left is in no danger of smacking into the boat - it's just a trick of perspective.
The big question is, "Who will pick up the ball and run with it?" - a real individual, not some faceless committee.

ON THE COVER
North Cascades Wild is a 12-day outdoor program at North Cascades National Park that offers high school students an opportunity to explore Ross Lake and surrounding wilderness areas. Participants also complete conservation service projects for the National Park Service while learning about leadership, community building, and natural and cultural history.

That is why it is relevant. We are trying to get more youth involved with the NPS and getting outside instead of playing Xbox all day.