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Environmental Professionals Network

School of Environment and Natural Resources


The Future of America’s Best Idea: Funding, Inclusion and Leadership

Sep 15, 2020, 10:00am - 11:30am



In early August, the Great American Outdoors Act was finally signed into law, a bill that would fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restore our national parks as one major way of protecting wildlife. With national park visitor numbers increasing pre-COVID-19 pandemic, the infrastructure of some sites could not keep up without needing significant repairs.

Alongside this victory, there has also been a looming issue regarding lack of diversity among people of color employed through the National Park Service and visiting national parks and public lands. Our country’s demographics are shifting, and it’s been projected that by 2050 or possibly sooner, the United States will be a minority-majority culture. Our next EPN virtual event will ask 

  • What does the Great American Outdoors Act look like long-term from a bipartisan lens?
  • Who will be part of the backlog repair efforts and what does this mean for the future of our national parks?
  • How can we better address the tough conversation around the lack of diversity when it comes to preserving our national parks and public lands?
  • What are some ways we can make our national parks more inclusive and accessible?

Join us as we explore how we can best continue to support and advocate for the preservation of our national parks, as well as discussing opportunities to create a more inclusive and accessible National Park System for future generations.


9:55 a.m. Waiting room opens

10:00 a.m. Jeff Sharp, PhD, director, School of Environment and Natural Resources provides welcome remarks

Nate Welch, park guide, Pecos National Historical Park, National Park Service, provides an overview of his NPS park career as an alum of the School of Environment and Natural Resources

John Garder, senior director for budget & appropriations, National Parks Conservation Association, provides updates on the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act and funding issues of national park sites

James Edward Mills, freelance journalist, The Joy Trip Project, discusses how people of color transformed the U.S. national parks and how we can work toward a more inclusive national park system

11:15 a.m. Audience Q & A

11:30 a.m. Program concludes


John Garder_NPCA_headshot

John Garder received his Bachelor of Arts degree studying race and ethnicity at the University of Colorado’s Ethnic Studies Department and earned a Master of Science degree focusing on environmental justice at the University of Michigan. He has been doing public lands policy in Washington, D.C. for 18 years with a focus on conservation funding. In his 10 years at the National Parks Conservation Association focusing on funding for the National Park Service, he has navigated numerous appropriations bills, several government shutdowns, and worked with partners to secure passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.  When he’s not at his desk in West Virginia, he is known as an avid outdoor recreationist with a mystifying pattern of breaking bones on rocks, stumps and concrete.


James Edward Mills_headshot

James Edward Mills is a freelance journalist who specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living. He has worked in the outdoor industry since 1989 as a guide, outfitter, independent sales representative, writer, and photographer. He is the author of the book “The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors”  and the co-writer/co-producer of the documentary film An American Ascent. James has written for the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison Magazine, and Wisconsin Trails. He is currently a contributor to several outdoor-focused print and online publications such as National Geographic Adventure, Rock & Ice, Alpinist, SUP, Elevation Outdoors, Women’s Adventure, the Clymb, Park Advocate, High Country News, Land & People, Outside Magazine and The Guardian. In 2020 James’s book, "The Adventure Gap" was named by Outside Magazine as one of 10 “Outdoor Books that Shaped the Last Decade”.


Nate Welch_NPS_photo

Nate Welch grew up on a farm in Vermilion, Ohio about 20 minutes away from Cedar Point. He graduated from The Ohio State University in March 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Environment and Natural Resources. Nate has been working for the National Park Service since 2011 in the field of Interpretation and Education. He worked at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Coronado National Memorial, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and is currently working at Pecos National Historical Park.


Get ready for a special virtual screening: an online screening and conversation of the new film PUBLIC TRUST. The film explores how our public lands are facing unprecedented threats from extractive industries and the politicians in their pockets. Part love letter, part political exposé, PUBLIC TRUST investigates how we arrived at this precarious moment through the examination of three beloved public lands that are particularly at risk—a national monument in the Utah desert, a mine in the Boundary Waters and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—and makes a case for their continued protection. Between September 20 to September 22, you'll be able to view a virtual screening of the film on your own. On September 22, there will be an option to join an online conversation where we will discuss the film and talk about how we can mobilize to protect our public lands.

To RSVP for Virtual Film Screening, click HERE. You will then receive a screening URL and a password to watch the film free of charge for a limited time. 

To REGISTER for Post Screening Conversation on September 22, 2020 at 6pm EST, please click on link HERE

Public Trust poster


​​In a time of growing polarization, Americans still share something in common: 640 million acres of public land. Held in trust by the federal government for all citizens of the United States, these places are a stronghold against climate change, sacred to native people, home to wildlife and intrinsic to our national identity. But today, despite support from voters across the political spectrum, they face unprecedented threats from extractive industries and the politicians in their pockets. Part love letter, part political exposé, PUBLIC TRUST investigates how we arrived at this precarious moment through three heated conflicts—a national monument in the Utah desert, a proposed mine in the Boundary Waters and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—and makes a case for their continued protection.

Watch Public Trust Trailer


We strive to host events that are inclusive and accessible to everyone. If you have a disability and require accommodations to fully participate in this activity, please reach out to Joe Campbell ( Requests made five business days in advance will generally allow us to provide seamless access. However, we will make every effort to meet requests made after this time frame. You will be contacted by someone from our staff to discuss your specific needs.

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