Discovery 2000: The Park Service Studies Itself

By Cat Lazaroff

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - Starting Monday, veteran park managers, watchdog groups and public interest groups expect to tackle the principle philosophical issues behind the management of lands controlled by the National Park Service. The discussion will occur in 35 workshops at the five day Discovery 2000 Conference in St. Louis.

"Discovery 2000: The National Park Service General Conference," is the first such conference held in more than 10 years. National Park Service (NPS) Director Robert Stanton called for the meeting to address the future expectations of the 84 year old agency.


NPS Director Robert Stanton (All photos courtesy NPS)
Discovery 2000 is expected to draw almost 1,500 people from across the country, including scholars, superintendents, environmentalists, company CEOs, resource rangers, members of the media, scientists and others.

The conference will feature four topical tracks, including Cultural Resource Stewardship, Natural Resource Stewardship, Education and Leadership.


On Monday, sessions will focus on how to define and connect the historic and prehistoric places the NPS works to preserve. Dr. John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus of history at Duke University Law School, will offer the keynote speech.


History professor Dr. John Hope Franklin
Authenticity, preservation and natural versus cultural resources are among the topics to be covered.

One session will discuss cases in which the NPS is asked to preserve relics of the "recent" past, outside what is traditionally considered to be historic. "How do we identify and preserve the best and most meaningful remnants of the new past?" asks the session description.


On Tuesday, keynote speaker E.O. Wilson, a Harvard professor and author who has championed the preservation of the nation's biodiversity, will kick off a daylong emphasis on natural resources.


Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson
Among the national issues to be discussed in workshops on Tuesday are the increasing pressure from outside influences on the plants and animals in parks and the role that the NPS will play if the nation loses a significant portion of species in this century, as many scientists project.

Topics will range from how to adopt a more active resource management effort, science based decision making, non-governmental conservation efforts, appropriate park uses and how - if ever - to justify impairment to natural resources.

Current operations applications, trends, policies and arguments will be highlighted in these workshops, such as the impact on natural resources of the agency’s fire management program, off road vehicle use, jetski and snowmobile bans, overflights, carrying capacities, invasive plant control and endangered species programs.

One role the NPS can play is in advancing scientific knowledge of natural resources on NPS lands. A recent inventory in Great Smoky Mountains National Park revealed two new species of amphibians: the eastern spadefoot toad and the mole salamander. These species are not just new to the park - they are new to science.


Wildflowers at Olympic National Park in Washington state, a park known for its biological diversity (Photo by by Thomas C. Gray)

In Mojave National Park, scientists are studying the density and distribution of desert tortoise populations. An NPS team is systematically searching for the tortoises over a pre-established series of grid patterns that cover wide areas of the Mojave Desert. They are keeping count, and a number of the tortoises are being fitted with transmitters so scientists can track their movements. The research is furthering the Park Service’s knowledge about this threatened species.

At the Buffalo National River in the Ozark Highlands of Arkansas, the NPS is working to restore the Buffalo River bands to a more natural pattern. After surveying the river channel, crews anchor revetments of cut cedar trees to halt erosion and help heal the scarred banks. Native hardwoods will be planted along five miles of the River to help bind the soil and restore natural stability to the riparian area.

This year the NPS will put new emphasis on exotic plant management. Invasive exotic plants have gained a foothold and are now infesting large areas in many parks. The agency has established four Exotic Plant Management Teams that will begin to control or, when possible, eradicate non-native plant species. The first four teams will work in the Hawaiian Islands, Florida, the National Capital Region and the Chihuahuan Desert/Short-Grass Prairie.



Poet Maya Angelou

On Wednesday, the educational role of the NPS will take center stage. Author and poet Maya Angelou is the keynote speaker for the Education track.

Some parks are already leading the way in education programming. At Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, students across the country can participate in an interactive field trip via live satellite broadcast. Prior to the broadcast, students "meet" a real life soldier on the internet, follow him through the battle, and write their own Civil War journals, some of which are posted on the park website.


Park Ranger Christina Seelaus at Assateague Island National Seashore digs a small hole with young park visitors to look for layers of black sand (Photo by Larry Points)
At Channel Islands National Park in California, rangers transport the park to classrooms in a grant funded van, which sports an attention getting kelp forest on its side. The van carries an aquarium with live creatures from tidal pools for the students to see and touch. Visitors to the park information center converse with a scuba diving ranger via an underwater video hook-up.

The non-profit Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center at the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in Ohio immerses 4th through 6th graders in environmental ethics through a five day residential program within the park. Children learn to be good environmental stewards for their neighborhoods and the planet.


On Thursday, Dr. Peter Senge of Massachusetts Institute of Technology will give a keynote speech on leadership in the NPS.


MIT professor Dr. Peter Senge
Session topics include "Why Americans Deserve to Know How the National Park Service Spends Its Money," "Park Development as a Means of Park Preservation: Tradition - or Rationalization?," and "Philanthropy and the National Parks."

Most workshop events and all of the keynote speakers will be at the Conference hotel, Regal Riverfront, 200 S. 4th Street, St. Louis, Monday through Friday, September 11 - 15, 2000.

Complete information about Discovery 2000 is available at: