Website Reviews: National Park Service’s River, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program

Reviewed by Sam Fox (July 2014):

As a new employee with the National Park Service (NPS), I have been exploring their lesser known programs and offices. One I had encountered in a previous stint as a community sustainability organizer in Boise, ID was the River, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA). I thought it would be interesting to review their current public website to see how they present themselves and if that matched up with my prior direct experience with the Program. The RTCA program leverages NPS expertise in project planning and management by acting as consultants who can help facilitate trails, river conservation and other resource management projects for communities across the country. For Fiscal Year 2013, the program committed to assisting with 350 projects across the country, including “connecting youth with national parks in Alaska, planning a community trail system for mountain biking in Michigan, and getting people paddling on Texas rivers.”

They hold a competitive application process annually, with project applications due August 1st. Pre-project submission consultations with regional RTCA program managers are highly recommended. Eligible projects are required to connect to key NPS objectives like fostering healthy lifestyles, increasing youth involvement with the outdoors, increasing connections within diverse communities, increasing access to NPS units, partnership based landscape conservation efforts and expanding public access to water resources. Further, projects must demonstrate a connection to the overall NPS mission. Projects must have a minimum of three committed project partners and federal agencies can only submit projects that have a co-leader from another local organization. 

The RTCA provides help in the form of skilled staff members that assist with a variety of direct project support mechanisms. For an example project that better links a community to a nearby national park, the RTCA “can facilitate the initial community park dialogue, help the two parties create a consensus vision, guide the planning process, help identify funding sources for the trail, and provide recommendations for trail design and management.” This was the role in which I first encountered this program  - the RTCA was assisting with a trail system’s establishment adjacent to a small town along the Columbia River in SE Washington State, and I thought it was a very interesting use of the NPS’s resources far outside their jurisdictional boundaries.

Given my new residency in Colorado, I chose to investigate the nearest region’s projects and office the Intermountain Region’s office here in Lakewood, CO. They have an annual newsletter that describes 2014 projects accepted for funding and provides updates on recently completed projects. Interestingly, they identify the Congressional District for each project perhaps to boost support for this standalone program across our divided Congress. Projects for 2014 included a water quality plan for an urban stream, a historical site preservation and access improvement program, a greenbelt master plan, motorized trail expansion to a National Park gateway community and other access improvement plans for diverse communities near natural resources. All in all, a very eclectic group of projects with wildly diverse scopes and programmatic schedules!

In sum, I thought that this program did a great job communicating their diverse mission via a simple and straightforward web presence. Contact information was linked on nearly every page, as well as in a static sidebar. Good use was made of an interactive map for project summaries and contact information by state. Images were used judiciously to communicate the types of projects and participants eligible for this program. The only improvement I would suggest is making the application form also available as an online form instead of a downloadable PDF. 

Sam Fox is an MLS student at the University of Maryland iSchool enrolled in the eGovernment specialization. Sam is a recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century scholarship funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.