Connecting Communities to Cuyahoga Valley National Park
In 2001, the National Park Foundation helped to establish the National Park Transportation Scholars Program, which grants annual fellowships to emerging transportation professionals. Transportation Scholars gain valuable career experience as they assist National Park Service staff with transportation solutions that preserve natural resources enhance the visitor experience and connect people to parks. Over the years nearly 50 national parks have benefitted from the program. Some parks have hosted multiple scholars like Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 33,000-acre urban park, located between Cleveland and Akron.
Consistently ranked one of the 10 most visited national parks, the Park is notably under-utilized by local residents who rely on bikeways and public transportation. With the help of a National Park Foundation funded Transportation Scholar the Park staff was able to explore transportation options that will attract underserved communities by connecting the public bus service to existing systems including the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
The scope of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park's project and its stated goal of engaging underserved audiences appealed to Carina Lieu, who began her fellowship in June of 2013, "Parks have nourished me my entire life," she said. "I had limited mobility growing up. Youth programs introduced me to the great outdoors and I want to apply my skills to expose others too." Shortly after her arrival, however, Carina recognized that she could best benefit the Park and its visitors by updating its Transportation Plan. Coordinating with regional stakeholders, she is helping the Park staff build partnerships that will open doors for future outreach efforts.
"Everyone here has an opportunity to identify a vision for the Park," said Carina. "Transportation will play a huge role and as we align goals we can outline the steps to get there now." Inspired by the progress to date, Carina recently received funding to extend her fellowship by a year. Carina is now identifying priorities that will enhance the visitor experience, protect natural resources and better connect future visitors. This spring she is leading a pilot study that will track 30 participants traveling by bus and bicycle to board the scenic railroad train. She is partnering with a local non-profit to organize and survey the volunteers whose responses will provide valuable input on serving visitors arriving by alternative modes of transportation.
[As a Transportation Scholar], "I have become the technical expert" said Carina, who commends the National Park Transportation Scholars Program for empowering young professionals to put their skills to work with plenty of support along the way. "It's challenging but I have been given lots of responsibility and the opportunity to make an impact. I would like to thank the National Park Foundation for giving me the chance of a lifetime."