Voyage to the Top
Christina Hausman Rhode fondly remembers going on family trips to state and national parks as a young child. She didn’t know it at the time, but that was how her lifelong voyage began.
With a passion for nature, as well as a knowledge for the importance of conservation, she felt she belonged in national parks. Christina knew she was passionate about the environment but needed to figure out how she could help. “While growing up, it’s harder to understand the many different roles people can have while still helping the environment and maybe not necessarily being in the field," Christina said. After completing her undergraduate studies in biology, political science, and journalism, she started in conservation through fundraising and marketing.
After working in nonprofits for a few years, she became the director of membership and communications at Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA). After two years, she was asked to take on the position of executive director for the organization. At the time, she thought she didn’t have the answers to everything but knew she could work hard, ask for help, and do what had to be done. She didn’t let the potential for challenges or difficulties stop her from accepting the opportunity.
Christina is happy that she said yes to this opportunity because the mission of the National Park Service always spoke to her. “The idea that ‘parks are for all’ is what helps connect me to Voyageurs National Park Association and this work,” she explained.
Women in Parks Together
Though embarking on a new adventure can be scary, Christina said she never felt alone. She expressed her gratitude to her support network of women for helping her throughout her career. “Women friendships are so important. Having other women of all different ages and experience levels that work in similar environments and can help guide each other is key,” Christina said, as she attributes those relationships to a smooth transition to executive director. Katie Nyberg of Mississippi Park Connection and Deb Ryun of St. Croix River Association, also executive directors of friends groups, have made her feel supported.
She first began to have these helpful conversations with them at the National Park Friends Alliance annual meetings, which is an informal network of nonprofit organizations led by a volunteer steering committee with support from the National Park Foundation. Its goal is to connect the community of philanthropic partner organizations ("friends groups") that work with the National Park Service. The annual meetings organizations to collaborate, learn from one another, and connect. “The Friends Alliance meetings have allowed us the opportunity to sit down, have that face to face time, and be able to bounce ideas off of each other,” Christina described.
Christina serves as a coordinator for the National Park Development Leaders Network, an affinity group facilitated by the National Park Foundation and the Friends Alliance through Strong Parks, Strong Communities, where she helped share her talents and resources with other people in the field. “Yes, our parks and communities are different, but we have similar goals and it is a missed opportunity if we are not sharing those with each other and processing challenges together,” she shared. This group allowed her to become even closer to a group of women that have swapped resources and stories. Although these groups are not only for women, it helps that there are many women in leadership roles from whom Christina and other women can seek help.
Since Christina was young, she has looked up to other strong women. As a child, her mom took her to hear Jane Goodall speak about the wolves at Yellowstone National Park. Jane Goodall was, and still is, a great inspiration to her and a strong female role model in conservation. Christina expressed that she believes children now can see even more women represented in parks as rangers and other roles. “But I think we still have a long way to go,” she stated, “and we still need more diverse women and more women in leadership.”
Keep It Wild
VNPA was established in 1975 and serves as the official charitable partner of Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. VNPA works to preserve the wild character and unique experience of the park. Christina Hausman Rhode’s role as executive director is to help connect partners, donors, new visitors, and volunteers to the park.
With the unique location and parameters of the park, it is 40% water and does not come without challenges, most of the park can only be accessed by boat. Christina strives to continue getting visitors to the park and on the water. With much land to maintain and a small staff to do it, Christina and VNPA support the National Park Service on wetland restoration, land protection, youth education programs, trails, and much more.
Again, Christina is grateful for the collaborative nature of the national parks and the partnerships that helped her accomplish goals for the organization. In 2012, the National Park Foundation provided a grant to VNPA that helped them launch their Teen Ambassador Program, which has allowed over 160 students to become Teen Ambassadors for Voyageurs National Park. VNPA was also able to receive a collaborative grant from the National Park Foundation and Conservation Legacy to host two AmeriCorps VISTA members for one year each through the Stewards Individual Placement Program, increasing her staff capacity from 1.5 full time employees to 2.5 during the time of each placement.
The National Park Foundation and Friends Alliance also impacted the organization through the Strong Parks, Strong Communities program. Through this program, VNPA received consulting help for fundraising and philanthropic needs. “Due to this program, the organization was really able to pivot from a smaller, advocacy organization into a true philanthropic partner of Voyageurs National Park,” Christina explained.
Her vision for the future is bold. From expanded public boat programming to growing youth engagement from kindergarten through college, Christina hopes to see great things within the boundaries of Voyageurs National Park. She is hoping to get more visitors to come to the park from near and far, get out on the water and experience the things she loves so much about Voyageurs.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Boat!
When asked to describe her favorite things about Voyageurs National Park, Christina said: “the people, the campsites, and the stars.” With 218,000 acres in Minnesota to explore, you are bound to find something that will take your breath away. From trails to lakes to the northern lights, you can hike, boat, and camp under the stars to experience this park. The park is open year-round and has no entrance fee.
You will #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque at this water-based park with so much to offer. Don't have your own boat? Don't worry! You can still visit and use the resources available on site to get on the water and truly experience it!