A two-day conference designed to explore the future of national parks in America draws a wide range of speakers. There's the obvious -- National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis -- and the not-quite-so-obvious -- Alan Latourelle, the chief executive officer of Parks Canada.
By the time America's Summit on National Parks winds down Thursday afternoon, the roughly 350 attendees will also have heard from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; former NPS Directors Fran Mainella, Mary Bomar, and Robert Stanton; Carlos Alcazar, the president and CEO of the Hispanic Communications Network; Angelou Ezello, executive director of the Greening Youth Foundation; Sally Jewell, the president and CEO of REI; John Podesta, the chair and counselor of the Center for American Progress; and Milton Chen, senior fellow and executive director emeritus of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Many others will lend their voices to the mix in a variety of ways, from experts on branding the parks in the eyes of prospective toursists, and interactive gaming experts, to even high school students.
Not only educational, the speakers could be provocative in some eyes as well. Should gaming experts be seen as consultants to the National Park Service? What can Parks Canada's CEO, who is grappling with issues similar to those in the U.S. -- stagnant if not declining visitation, budget woes -- offer his cross-border colleagues? Why is someone from The Walt Disney Co. on the agenda?
But, with the National Park Service turning 100 just four years from now, a little provocative conversation could be a very good thing. Raising a topic does not mean one is wedded to it, and could actually generate more brainstorming than imagined when the agenda was printed. And some ideas, at first seen as perfect for the parks, could be discovered to have pitfalls.
Issues dear to the future of the National Park System can be seen throughout the agenda:
* Expand the meaning of parks to new audiences and provide an opportunity for communities to learn more about their heritage by conducting history discovery events, using oral histories and other methods, in at least 100 parks.
* Enhance the connection of densely populated, diverse communities to parks, greenways, trails, and waterways to improve close-to-home recreation and natural resources conservation.
* Support communities’ efforts to expand access to water-based recreation and to protect and restore waterways across the country by establishing a national system of water trails.
* NPS will strive to be a leader in addressing climate change impacts on protected areas around the world.
* What are the most important elements of a new national park system plan, and how should new park advocates be involved in the process of developing the plan?
* A working coalition is established to influence the national park system plan, and to promote establishing specific high priority new parks.
It will be interesting to see how these and other ideas are bandied about by the speakers and participants.
How might Erick Huey of the Entertainment Software Association connect the parks to today's younger generations?
What lessons can Dr. Beth Stevens, senior vice president of Corporate Citizenship for Disney, share from her work implementing some of Disney's environmental and conservation programs?
And what programs might Chris Lane, the vice president for sustainability at Xanterra Parks & Resorts, one of the leading park concessionaires, touch on in terms of "sustainable design, energy and water efficiency, carbon emission reduction, pollution prevention, environmental education, strategic partnerships, and federal and state regulatory compliance"?
The summit -- hosted by the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Park Foundation, and the National Park Hospitality Association -- perhaps could have involved more groups interested in the future of the National Park System. Though with just two days, that likely would have been overly cumbersome.
The conference offers ample opportunities for conversation starters and topics that can be explored and possibly built on going forward.
Perhaps more key than the conversations, though, will be the challenge of keeping whatever ideas do rise to the top in the forefront, politically, and within the Park Service. With a presidential election arriving in November, there could be great change coming in the direction of the Park Service, the White House, the Congress, or all three, and that could be detrimental to the good work done at the summit.