National Park Service


Date of this Version



Published in Weber, Samantha, and David Harmon, eds. 2008. Rethinking Protected Areas in a Changing World: Proceedings of the 2007 GWS Biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites. Hancock, Michigan: The George Wright Society.


I want to talk about the Natural Resource Challenge as a turning point for the National Park Service (NPS), in many ways the culmination of several decades of a paradigm shift in the organization that has affected, as Leopold put it, our “intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions.”

Essentially, the culture of the NPS has changed from one in which it focused primarily on the visitor, to one that prides itself in managing, protecting, and understanding the complex natural and cultural resources for which it has stewardship responsibilities. I do not mean to imply that the visitor now takes a second seat to the resource, but that visitors are provided high-quality experiences within the context of a far more sophisticated resource management program than we did twenty years ago. Those doubting that we have changed need look no further than the Natural Resource Challenge, a bold, $75–100 million budgetary initiative that transitioned smoothly between two presidents and has been well received by the field, the Congress, and the Office of Management and Budget.