The Paradox of the Cultivated Wild

The National Park Service is tasked with protecting natural and cultural resources, while simultaneously providing opportunities for public use and enjoyment. This "dual mandate" exemplifies the NPS's unique and complex purpose, but presents a paradoxical mission that draws the Park service in apparently contradictory directions. We will explore how the NPS interacts with the American people through this dual mandate, the complexities involved in making these decisions, and the prospect for long-term relevance of America's National Parks.

Inside the Classroom

Class time will be used to explore the variety of strategies employed by the NPS for caring for the environment, preserving history, revitalizing communities, and inviting stewardship. We will consider the unprecedented challenges the national parks face in the coming decades, such as climate change, budgetary restrictions, and the need to make the parks relevant to an increasingly diverse society through consideration of preservation of historical, cultural, and environmental resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

Through course discussions, activities, and interdisciplinary approaches, students will:

  • Act as tourists to experience tourist-focused infrastructure, and critically consider its economic and environmental costs and benefits;
  • Engage the cultivated wild in both highly-developed areas and in the backcountry;
  • Experience history of places and people through the interpretation and storytelling of a region's human and natural inhabitants;
  • Evaluate resource management issues that include the politicization of charismatic species, wildfire policy, invasive species and climate change, development/land use surrounding parks, recognition of cultural histories, needs of indigenous peoples, and the role of private business inside and outside parks;
  • Consider challenges when trying to reconcile potentially competing needs of wildlife, wilderness, education, recreation, and cultural/historical interests.

Outside the Classroom

Local field trips to National Park units and protected lands in Virginia will be used to develop initial impressions of the challenges confronting those who are working to enhance public engagement while reinforcing conservation. With community partners, we will examine how natural- and human-resource needs impact the strategies used to manage and protect spaces at multiple levels.

A fall break trip will visit the world's first national park, Yellowstone National Park, where we will engage with diverse stakeholders to explore the complex and dynamic issues facing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This will be both a highly challenging and thought-provoking endeavor. #FindYourPark

Research and Capstone Project

The spring semester capstone experience will center on a "Westhampton Lake/Gambles Mill Eco-Corridor Project" that will challenge students to apply concepts and issues addressed at the national level during the fall semester to their own "cultivated wild" at the University of Richmond.

Sample Course Texts

Yellowstone: A Journey Through America’s Wild Heart, by David Quammen

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West, by Neil Blakeslee

Before Yellowstone: Native American Archaeology in the National Park, by Douglass MacDonald

Knowing Yellowstone: Science in America's First National Park, by Jerry Johnson

A Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement, by the National Park Service.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, documentary film by Ken Burns

A Thinking Person's Guide to America's National Parks, by Robert Manning, Rolf Diamant, Nora Mitchell, and David Harmon.