CSU center partners with National Park Service to provide historical scholarship

CSU’s Public Lands History Center has received new support that will allow it to partner with the National Park Service on an expanded number of large, complex research projects.

The center, based in CSU’s Department of History, has worked closely with the National Park Service on past initiatives, including research on Rocky Mountain National Park, Japanese-American internment camps in New Mexico and a Sept. 29 panel discussion on campus titled “The Color of Our Parks: Nature, Race and Diversity in the National Park Service.”

PLHC students hear from a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park.
PLHC students hear from a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park.

But those efforts have been on an ad hoc basis. Now, the center and NPS plan to forge an agreement that would accommodate a higher volume of collaborations for projects in the $100,000 to $500,000 range, according to Jared Orsi, a professor in the Department of History and chair of the PLHC Faculty Council.

The funding

The center, one of 21 units at CSU to receive designation from the CSU Office of the Vice President for Research as a Program for Research and Scholarly Excellence last spring, was just selected as one of only five of those units that will each receive about $100,000 over two years.

“This is going to provide us the staff support we need to expand our capacity to involve students in projects for clients and bring their results to the larger community through public programming and publication,” Orsi said. “Expanding our work for the Park Service will enable the PLHC to carry out the university’s land grant mission of integrating education, research and outreach.”

“The National Park Service has a long history of partnering with the Center on research projects that benefit both the University and NPS,” NPS Assistant Regional Director for Cultural Resources Thomas Lincoln wrote to the VPR office in a letter of support. “I have approached the Center with an interest in developing a broader scope to our mutual research interests, including multi-park projects, administrative histories and research into contemporary issues affecting parks and higher education, e.g., civil rights, federal land development and how it affects National Parks, visitor use in our National Parks and global warming/climate change.”

ranger-teaching-plhc-folks-2015New program manager

The new money will allow the center to hire a program manager to oversee the new projects and handle the complexity of expanded volume, budgeting and fundraising efforts. The funding will also help free faculty from project management duties and assist the center and NPS in applying for grants and seeking other funding to continue the effort beyond year two.

“This person will help us create synergies, avoid administrative duplication and find ways to connect our various initiatives with the National Park Service,” Orsi said. “For instance, we don’t need five people from five separate projects working with the Office of Sponsored Programs. The program manager will also help identify similarities — if three projects involve an energy component, maybe we host an event about energy.”

The Intermountain Region, the largest in the National Park Service, includes 84 parks and other reserves in eight states, from Texas to Montana. The new partnership is expected to provide CSU graduate students with even more real-world experience performing research on the history of public lands, supervised by CSU faculty. Orsi said possible topics include the effect of climate change on the parks, interpretation, human impacts, structure preservation, park security, investigations of environmental history, visitor safety and studies of race in the parks.

“These research efforts not only make the parks and their history more relevant to our public, both national and international, they assist in our making effective and efficient decisions on managing our sacred places,” Lincoln wrote to CSU Vice President for Research Alan Rudolph. “The National Park Service Intermountain Region is proud to partner with the Center and its faculty on significant research projects, and I envision a shared future with the Center of outstanding scholarship and outreach to students and our many partners in and outside of Colorado.”