National Park Foundation Grants Designed To Help Parks Improve Visitor Transportation

While some national parks struggle with moving tourists around during the peak season due to traffic jams and road systems designed for fewer vehicles, the National Park Foundation is working to provide the National Park Service with the expertise to help improve the situation.

The Foundation recently awarded a quarter-million dollars to five national parks to provide "Transportation Scholars" who will spend time in the parks analyzing traffic flows and bottlenecks.

Now in its 12th year, the Transportation Scholars program selects emerging transportation professionals to work side-by-side with park staff to research sustainable alternative solutions to address the growing and unique transportation issues in America’s national parks, including traffic, pollution and congestion.

“By working closely with national park staff, surrounding communities, private consultants, contractors, and park visitors, the Transportation Scholars are able to gather incredibly useful research and develop sustainable ideas that will help ensure the future of America’s national parks,” said Foundation CEO and President Neil Mulholland in a release. “To date, this program has positively impacted more than 45 sites across the country.”

Does the program work?

A scholar funded by the program in 2009 spent a year helping officials to develop an Alternative Transportation Plan for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The 72-mile corridor of this partnership park bisects the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, providing a primary north-south multi-modal greenway for local residents and visitors to get outside and explore. The Transportation Scholar was tasked with developing a truly viable multi-modal transportation system for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Critical components of the Scholar’s work in developing this plan included:

* Anticipating the needs of visitors as they navigate by foot, bike, bus, or some combination thereof;

* Addressing system gaps and unclear or unmarked routes which made it difficult for visitors to navigate the park;

* Exploring the need for continuous and consistent non-motorized access to, and facilities along, the river to ensure safety of a variety of park users;

* Incorporating the NPS brand throughout the corridor as most users did not realize they were in a national park.

“The Transportation Scholars Program is a unique partnership that is helping us create comprehensive transportation plans for national parks,” said Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “The research and solutions developed by these scholars not only aid us in improving the visitor experience, but also provide for improved protection of the natural and cultural resources in our parks.”

The 2013 Transportation Scholars national park recipients include:

* Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)

The scholar will help develop a thoughtful wayfinding/signage plan and establish partnerships with local communities and agencies to collectively address the need for a Bandelier bike loop and regional bicycle trail.

* Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

The scholar will develop a plan for alternative transportation that will help connect underserved communities with the natural, historic, educational and recreational aspects of the national park.

* Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

The scholar will help manage improvements to and expansion of the existing visitor trolley system, in addition to providing technical assistance in contract management, addressing FTA program requirements and facilitating collaboration among community partners.

* National Mall and Memorial Parks (Washington, D.C.)

The scholar will develop strategic recommendations for multimodal transportation options that provide more efficient visitor mobility, safe walking/biking environments, and less traffic congestion.

* Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho)

The scholar will continue working on the “Gardiner Gateway Project,” which was started in 2012. The scholar will focus on improving the current traffic congestion, parking overflow, and pedestrian/bicycle safely concerns at the park’s historic north entrance.

The Transportation Scholars program model has proven so successful that the Transit in Parks Technical Assistance Center (TRIPTAC) launched a complementary program last year, expanding the program to all public lands. This new extension, the TRIPTAC Public Lands Transportation Scholars Program, is based on the NPF program model and matches Transportation Scholars with one of three other federal land management agencies. The two programs will work together to train and mentor scholars with the shared goal of preserving our nation’s valuable natural, cultural, and historic resources and enhancing the visitor experience by implementing sustainable, alternative transportation in national parks and public lands.

Previous scholars’ work has resulted in nearly four million dollars in private and public funding to put the Transportation Scholars’ plans into action. Past scholars have gone on to careers with the National Park Service, the Federal Highway Administration, the Department of Transportation and many private consulting agencies.

The National Park Foundation’s Transportation Scholars program is made possible, in part, through the support of the National Park Service, Eno Transportation Foundation, Federal Highway Administration, Motorola Solutions Foundation, and the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Technical Assistance Center.