Experience at the DSC: Planning
I spent the summer interning at the Planning Division of the Denver Service Center of the National Park Service. Interning at the Planning Division at the Denver Service Center has been a truly unique and exciting experience. As an intern, I was immediately embraced by the office and immersed into my project teams. During my second week at the office, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a Foundation Workshop for the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, GA. I traveled with the team to conduct a site visit, meet with the Carters and the park staff, and to participate in the intensive three-day workshop to refine the park’s purpose, reasons for significance, interpretive themes, and fundamental resources. This experience provided great insight into the level of critical analysis and forethought exhibited by the project managers and chief staff of the DSC and the park; as a landscape architect student, I valued the opportunity offer a design perspective to the planning process as it related to park experience and interpretation through the land.
For me one of the highlights was getting to know the interpreters in the park and understand how they go about telling the park’s narrative through various mechanisms such as engagement with the land through creative/evocative design, front of the line park rangers who are enthused by the park, and relevant wayfinding posts – one park I experienced that I thought did this really well is: Andersonville NHS.
Another beneficial aspect of interning at the DSC was the opportunity to work on a variety of different sites, from rich, cultural landscapes to more sublime, natural landscapes – since the DSC is a consulting arm of the NPS. I was also able to work on Gateway National Recreation Area, a huge undertaking that gave me insights into the complexity of managing a myriad of stakeholders and engaging in the community in the planning process.
Finally, being able to return to Nicodemus NHS (our competition studio site) and to present our studio proposal was extremely rewarding. It was great to get feedback from the community, see some old face and meet new faces. We visited Nicodemus in February when it was negative 15 degrees and pretty empty, it was a stark contrast to see Nicodemus at its most exciting – during its annual Homecoming event and at its peak heat!
During the entire summer experience, the Designing the Parks principles were clearly evident in all the parks I was exposed to – one that stands out is Reverence for Place. Working on Jimmy Carter NHS, I definitely saw how this park’s planning and design sought create a plan that would 1. Allow for change in historic places – history is not over, 2. Understand tensions; integrate multiple values and perspectives. Jimmy Carter NHS is an evolving landscape since the former president is still very active and impacting the world on a global humanitarian level – there were many discussions on how the park can be evolved to incorporate the recent past 10-15 years and how the park will be managed after the Carters are no longer with us. We also talked a lot about incorporating new cultural resources into the park and whether this was a necessary part of the Carter narrative; it was interesting to hear Jimmy Carter explain his reasoning for incorporating his brother Billy’s gas station into the park boundary. The President spoke about the importance of his family’s support in his political life and that while Billy’s outlandish behaviors and scandals may have been a weight on the campaign and presidency – Billy is part of the story that needs to be told. It was really interesting to see the President Carter embrace the many colors of his presidency and to understand how his roots and family impacted him.
My one recommendation for the National Park Service based on the competition, internship, and exposure to various national parks throughout the country is to continue to leverage the creative thinking of designers in park planning and interpretation. The parks that stay with a visitor are those that work on both a literal conscious level and in a more visceral and unconscious level. It is definitely easier for natural landscapes to stun visitors with its beauty; my challenge to the NPS would be ask themselves how the landscape of the cultural and historical parks can be better leveraged to tell a compelling story. How can the land, space, and sky be designed to create an experience of place that makes the visitor feel and understand the importance of the site?
Finally, the convivial culture of the DSC made the experience extremely rewarding; I was always actively engaged and supported by the office, where colleagues made me feel welcomed and cared for. After eight weeks at the DSC, I learned a lot about the planning of our national parks, met passionate and intelligent people, and have become more informed about potential career paths after I finish my MLA program.
Thank you to the National Park Service (especially everyone at the DSC – Barbara Johnson and Cynthia Nelson for being wonderful supportive bosses, and Shaun Eyring’s support in our Nicodemus trip), Van Alen Institute, and Student Conservation Association for making this amazing experience possible.
Special shoutouts to my fellow P4P interns – Martina Gonzalez for being a fun and great housemate, Ashley Klinger for being such a great host in Nicodemus, and Liz Luzzi for being a great teammate at Nicodemus.