Meet the NPF Team: Ashley McEvoy
Ashley McEvoy’s entrance into the sustainability world has been a nonlinear journey. Looking back, she admits she didn't know what she was getting into at the start of her career, but we’re sure glad she stayed.
As the National Park Foundation (NPF)'s Senior Manager of Resilience and Sustainability, Ashley manages programs that make parks more environmentally sustainable, protecting natural and historic spaces for generations to come. Working directly with parks on projects, Ashley supports the National Park Service (NPS)'s goals to reduce energy use and waste and conserve water in our parks.
What is your favorite national park memory or experience?
If I had to pick a favorite memory in an outdoor park, I would say it was spending the day planting native species at Channel Islands National Park in Ventura, CA. Working with a local environmental nonprofit, I was able to understand the unique flora and fauna on the island of Anacapa – just a one-hour ferry ride from where I lived at the time.
But it's hard to pick just one – each national park offers its own iconic, unique landscape and experience. I am amazed by the diversity of natural spaces in this country, not to mention the historic and cultural sites that connect Americans to important parts of our history. I had the opportunity to join a virtual tour of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth home as part of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. It's incredible that we can feel connected to these places while sitting at home on our computers. I am grateful for technology and park rangers who have continued to serve their parks and visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can you describe your job and the projects you work on at NPF?
I support NPS priority projects to reduce waste and energy use and conserve water in parks. One initiative involves a multi-year effort to divert landfill waste at three parks – Yosemite National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Denali National Park and Preserve.
Since the inception of the program in 2016, these three parks have diverted more than 16 million pounds of waste from landfills through partnering with the local community to increase composting, recycling, and visitor educational initiatives.
I’m also proud to work on an energy and food waste project at Grand Canyon National Park that will install solar collection panels for a waste transfer station to heat the building to maintain a steady temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is needed to accurately maintain the compost. The facility currently handles 20 tons of waste per day – which includes all the trash from the north and south rims – and the composting program can't run year-round due to dipping temperatures. Composting can reduce the weight of waste transported to the landfill by as much as 30%, diverting over 1,000 tons of waste from the landfill per year and reducing associated transportation costs.
What drives you to do this work?
I feel a deep connection to outdoor spaces and operate with a mindset that humans are a part of nature – not separate from it. We live on a planet with finite resources, and I want to create solutions to our energy and climate obstacles that are centered on the health of people and communities. This can look like using alternative and renewable energy to reduce greenhouse emissions, improve air quality, and mitigate climate change, or reducing trash sent to landfills so we don't leave future generations with waste they can't manage. It's thinking long-term and understanding how public policies, priorities, and individual actions now will affect society three generations down the road.
How did you get started in this type of work?
My foray into the environmental sustainability world was a lengthy and often nonlinear journey. I didn't grow up in what I’d consider an environmental household. That said, my parents encouraged outdoor play – something that might now be considered “free-range parenting,” meaning I was pushed outside after school and returned home for dinner.
We built tree forts and forged paths in the marshes – often resulting in bruises, scratches, and poison ivy. I believe this paved the way for my comfort level in outdoor spaces, and desire to begin hiking and spending time in parks as a young adult. I say this recognizing my privilege as a white cisgender person, feeling safe, accepted, and comfortable in outdoor spaces – particularly hiking trails – and recognize that's not the case for people with marginalized identities. Prior to this role at NPF, I worked in corporate environmental grantmaking, focusing on environmental justice and equitable access to the outdoors where I dove deeper into social justice issues surrounding outdoor access. We need to work harder to create a diverse environmental movement that is representative of all identities and ability levels.
My first 9-5 job after undergraduate was working on an online sustainable food guide where I spoke with farmers, markets, grocery stores, and restaurants to discern whether their animal welfare and production practices were in line with environmental and conservation best practices. It opened my eyes to how agricultural practices in raising livestock and produce are directly linked to soil and air quality, and community health.
What is one of your favorite parts of working for NPF?
My favorite thing is working directly with the National Park Service – both at the headquarters and park levels. Getting to hear directly from parks about their needs and thinking around sustainability, I am motivated to continue to help enhance these places for both staff and visitors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, NPS staff are extremely passionate about the places where they live and work. They are creative and strategic in how they conserve water and reduce energy and waste. In my experience, the people in the field – in this case NPS staff – have the knowledge and know-how to solve the challenges they face. Listening and learning from park staff is an honor and privilege.
If you could create a park around a current or historical figure or moment, what would it be?
I look forward to the moment where we are celebrating a park that has achieved a net zero status in terms of energy, water, and waste. Hopefully very soon, visitors will be able to see the operations that contribute to a sustainable future – from solar panels that provide energy, to composting programs that replenish the soil and reduce waste, to rainwater catchment systems that harvest rainwater to irrigate landscapes and save energy. There would be park ambassadors that educate visitors on recycling and composting best practices, giving guided tours of the sustainability efforts at the park. The message would be for visitors to take these practices home to their own communities.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in a career in sustainability and conservation?
Stay curious and passionate. Write down your goals and don’t let anything get in the way of them. Figure out how your unique skillset and passion can be morphed into a job.
Career growth doesn’t have to be linear, and you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do at 22. Addressing large-scale challenges like climate change and sustainability requires and all hands on deck approach, and the role of women in this work is essential to create a society that can be sustained for generations. With the historic confirmation of Secretary Deb Haaland to the Department of the Interior, we are seeing in real time how representation matters in leadership, particularly to communities who have been historically disenfranchised by the mainstream environmental movement. I am grateful also to the many women leaders at NPF – including Chief Program Officer LaTresse Snead – who are paving the way for generations of women.
Inspired to keep parks green with Ashley? Help NPF help parks reduce environmental impacts and protect our parks’ resources for the enjoyment of current and future generations.