Harmonizing With The Landscape
“In the construction of roads, trails, buildings, and other improvements, particular attention must be devoted always to the harmonizing of these improvements with the landscape.” - National Park Service Director Stephen Mather, 1918
Our friends at the National Park Service work tirelessly everyday to preserve the natural, cultural, and historical resources of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.
Planning and developing sustainable transportation systems is central to fulfilling that mission.
The truth is that balancing the stewardship of environmental resources against the need for more public access in parks is a challenge. But it’s not impossible.
With increasing reliance on personal automobiles, the National Park Service is looking at emerging technology to help fulfill its dual mandate to provide access to and preserve unimpaired our greatest resources.
The Department of the Interior has embraced sustainable and alternative technology as a solution to park transportation issues.
Here at the National Park Foundation, we fund vital park programs that support and promote sustainable transportation solutions that help preserve national park resources and enhance the visitor experience. One of our signature programs is Transportation Scholars. Since its launch 12 years ago, 60 transportation professionals have provided transportation planning assistance at 50 national parks across the country.
In the photo below, Michael Alvino, a National Park Foundation Transportation Scholar at National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, DC, enjoys a bike ride tour through the park with a National Park Service employee and a park visitor. Bicycling is one of the most popular sustainable transportation options for park visitors. There are currently six bike rental stations that are located convenient to National Mall destinations and connect with the Capital Bikeshare system.
In addition, the National Park Service Centennial in 2016 presents a prime opportunity to engage in an open dialogue about how, as a community, we are working to enhance visitor accessibility now and in the future, while simultaneously protecting America's national treasures in the second century. On February 3, the Second Century Club, the National Park Foundation’s corporate membership program, did just that with a robust panel discussion about sustainable transportation.
Keynote speaker Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, offered remarks tracing the history of transportation in the National Park Service and sharing the agency’s commitment to innovation in sustainability via initiatives like the Green Parks Plan and the Clean Cities National Parks Initiative. The Director’s presentation was followed by a panel with experts and corporate partners who are leading the way in alternative fuel transportation solutions, including:
- Dennis A. Smith, PE, Moderator, National Clean Cities Director from the Department of Energy
- Bob Vogel, Regional Director, National Capital Region, National Park Service
- Michael Alvino, Transportation Scholar, National Mall and Memorial Parks
- PJ Newcomb, Sustainability Program Manager, Coca-Cola North America
The panelists spoke about how innovations in the transportation industry shaped America’s national parks in their first century, and what our goals are for continued innovations in our second century. Here are some things we learned during the panel:
- Visitor transit systems provide critical access to sites in more than 10% of national parks
- In 2012, National Park Service transit systems reported 36.3 million passenger boardings. In 2013, National Park Service transit systems reported 26.9 million passenger boardings (This is similar to cities such as Sacramento, CA and Charlotte, NC. The sudden drop in boardings was due to the government shutdown.)
- Currently, 28% of vehicles in the National Park Service fleet run on alternative fuels (3,142 vehicles)
- In 2014, the National Park Service funded transportation construction projects that improved facilities in 141 parks via 461 projects across 45 states and generated jobs and economic benefit to local communities.
The National Park Foundation is proud to support the National Park Service in its work to reduce emissions and encourage both our parks and our visitors to pursue more sustainable options. On the eve of a new century, we are excited to be working together to raise funds that directly aid and enrich priority sustainability projects in America’s national parks.
Photos by: Phil Shapiro and Hollis Bowe