WNPA Is Now Accepting Nominations & Applications for Annual Awards, Grants & Scholarships

(Tucson, AZ) August 23, 2022Western National Parks Association (WNPA) is now accepting submissions for its awards, grants, and scholarships. All submissions must be completed electronically through the WNPA web portal by Sept. 19, 2022. Recipients will be announced the week of Nov. 7, 2022.

“WNPA is seeking nominations and applications for scientific, historical, and social science research in national parks to help advance their management, preservation, and interpretation,” says Marie Buck, CEO. “We honor and support individuals who have devoted their lives to advancing our national parks in myriad ways and seek careers with the National Park Service (NPS) and like organizations.

“WNPA celebrates diversity, equity, and accessibility in national parks and the workplace. We welcome nominations and research proposals that exemplify and recognize these values,” adds Buck.

Submission information for all categories is provided below.

AWARDS

Each year, WNPA honors individuals and organizations that spread awareness of WNPA and national parks, conduct exceptional research in parks, and engage the public in the national park ideals through high-quality educational and interpretive materials and programs. Learn about the awards and submit a nomination.

JAMES E. COOK NATURE’S CLASSROOM GRANT

The Nature’s Classroom grant increases access to national parks for underrepresented K–12 youth. This grant aids educators in bringing the national parks to their classrooms, and their students to national parks.  Learn more and apply.

WNPA RESEARCH GRANT

WNPA supports research by providing grants for projects that benefit national parks’ management, preservation, and interpretation. There are multiple awards in varying amounts available in this category.

Grant projects must originate in one of over 70+ WNPA-affiliated parks in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. For a list of affiliate parks, visit WNPA / Discover Our Parks.  All fields of scholarly research are supported, including:

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Botany
  • Citizen Science
  • Ecology
  • Geology
  • History
  • Natural Story
  • Social Science
  • Zoology

For research grant funding criteria and guidelines, download the request for proposal.  

SCHOLARSHIPS

Scholarships are available to support individuals who wish to establish careers that increase workforce diversity in the National Park Service, similar government agencies, or nonprofit cultural or natural heritage conservation organizations. Two scholarships valued at $2,500 each will be awarded. Learn more about scholarship offerings and apply.

About WNPA

Western National Parks Association (WNPA) helps make the national park experience possible for everyone. As a nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service (NPS), WNPA supports parks across the West, developing products, services, and programs that enhance the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. Since 1938 WNPA has worked to connect new generations to parks in meaningful ways, all with one simple goal: create advocates who want to preserve and protect these special places for everyone, for all time. Learn more at www.wnpa.org.

Marie Buck, former chief operating officer of Grand Canyon Conservancy (GCC) and an Arizonan for most of her life, has been appointed CEO of Western National Parks Association (WNPA). Marie was selected following a national search to lead WNPA, which since its founding in 1938 has provided more than $126 million to its 70+ partner parks to fund educational programs, initiatives, and scientific research.

At GCC, Marie not only managed operations and special activities that supported one of America’s most iconic parks, she served on its board of directors. Prior to GCC, she was senior director of business operations at Phoenix Raceway (NASCAR) for 20 years, leading a $180 million facility modernization and taking on many duties of the president during her final years there.

WNPA’s new CEO Marie Buck has taken 30 whitewater rafting trips down the Colorado River.

Outside the office, she’s lived much of her life outdoors enjoying camping, hiking, fishing, and rafting. By her count, she’s rafted the Colorado River 30 times through the Grand Canyon, and finds immense pleasure in sharing that passion with others as a guide.

The following is a Q&A with Marie, who began her tenure with WNPA on July 11.

Tell us a little about your background?

I’m the only child of Swedish immigrant parents and was born in San Diego. I moved to Arizona when I was 7 years old. I graduated from Arizona State University (ASU) with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accountancy. During the pandemic, I got my CPA license—just to have it.

What’s your favorite Monopoly piece, and why?

I think the car, because it can race fast around the board.

Desert, Mountains or Beach?

This isn’t fair, because I like them all. I would have to say desert, because this is my home and I love the desert so much.

A person you admire, and why?

When I was at ASU, I worked in a male-dominated athletics department. I was in my 20s and had no experience navigating that type of environment. I was shy and introverted. Dr. Christine Wilkinson was my supervisor, and while she wasn’t a mentor, I learned so much watching her. She led by example and was just so impressive with how she navigated that culture. She was professional and articulate, and spoke her mind, standing up for what was right but not in an offensive way. Rather than fight the culture, she built collaborative partnerships across the organization and the community. She was the daughter of famous ASU football coach William (Bill) Kajikawa, so she had the foundation to navigate that male-dominated arena.

Marmots became Marie’s favorite animal during hikes with her Dad in Sequoia National Park.

You found a lottery ticket worth $10 million. What do you do?

This is a trick question, right? Because I found it, it’s not mine. I would try to figure out who it belonged to, because I wouldn’t want to cash it in if it didn’t belong to me. If I couldn’t find the owner, I would donate the money to charity.

What’s your favorite animal, and why?

The marmot. When my Dad and I used to hike the higher altitudes of Sequoia National Park, we would see them. They’re like big beavers with no tail, and they’re just so playful and cute. They used to terrorize our camp, but I love them.

When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Either an astronaut or a park ranger. Both are explorers. But I found later in life that my super power was creating life-changing experiences for other people as an administrator. Seeing someone experience the outdoors and making a deep connection is what really excites me and motivates me.

What is your favorite type of music?

I was in high school in the mid-’80s, so I’m going to have to say heavy metal hair bands.

Favorite band?

I’ve never missed a Bon Jovi concert!

Sweets, says the new CEO, are her “downfall.”

Favorite song?

“Purple Rain” by Prince. It’s very soothing and spiritual for me. I like to listen to it at night on the river.

Worst song?

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Hate it. Don’t know why.

Salty or sweet?

Sweet. I love sweets. They are my downfall.

Favorite quote?

“You are never too small to make a difference.” Greta Thunburg.

Favorite hobby? 

Rafting in the Grand Canyon. I’ve been fortunate to work as a guide for a commercial company every summer for most summers. For 17-18 days, I just disconnect from the world and get into a state of just being in every moment that I’m in the canyon. I also love helping people experience the canyon and share that connection.

What do you love about your work?

I love that we create experiences. Whether they are on a rafting trip, or hiking, or visiting a park, and people learn something about cultural resources, indigenous people or just make that connection with the natural environment—it changes them emotionally and impacts them for a lifetime.

Marie Buck. Courtesy of Barbara Sherman

(Tucson, AZ) July 13, 2022—Western National Parks Association (WNPA) announced today that Marie Buck has been named chief executive officer (CEO).

Buck was most recently chief operating officer (COO) for the Grand Canyon Conservancy (GCC) where she successfully managed operations, organization strategies, and systems. She previously served on the board of directors for GCC. As the senior director of business operations at Phoenix Raceway (NASCAR), Marie’s leadership was instrumental in the $180 million facility modernization project resulting in substantial increases in revenue and customer satisfaction.

“Marie has an impressive record of success leading and operating complex organizations in operations, human resources, retail, programs, and capital and business development projects,” said Les Corey, chairman of the WNPA board of directors. “She knows what it takes to successfully move WNPA forward, building upon the organization’s strong foundation and reputation, expanding partnerships, diversifying the organization’s revenue streams, and enhancing the visitor experience in the 71 national parks we serve.”

Buck has lived in Arizona most of her life and is an avid outdoorswoman. She enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, and whitewater rafting, and has worked 30 rafting trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

“WNPA is a nationally respected organization supporting the visitor experience and parks at the highest level. I’m excited to be leading such a visionary team,” Buck said. “The key to our momentum coming out of a pandemic is to remain fiscally sound and expand on the collaborative relationships WNPA has established with the parks and monuments with which we work, and ensure the highest service levels for all stakeholders. We must leverage our existing strengths and explore innovative approaches to connect visitors to their park experience that will create lifelong protectors of our natural and cultural resources.”

Buck succeeds Jim Cook who is retiring after more than 11 years.

Read more about Marie’s passion for public lands here.

About WNPA

Western National Parks Association (WNPA) helps make the national park experience possible for everyone. As a nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service, WNPA supports parks across the West, developing products, services, and programs that enhance the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. Since 1938 WNPA has worked to connect new generations to parks in meaningful ways, all with one simple goal: to create advocates who want to preserve and protect these special places for everyone for all time. Learn more at www.wnpa.org.

By Dave DeFusco

Botanist Dan Beckman, beside a Cochise adder’s mouth orchid, is co-leading the study. photo courtesy of Tony Palmer, NPS

A team of National Park Service researchers will study the biological diversity of Saguaro National Park’s “sky island” assisted by a $10,000 grant from the Western National Parks Association.

The grant was supported by a $5,000 gift from Wild Tribute, which donates to organizations that support national parks and public lands, and the agencies that oversee their legacy. Ben Kieffner, co-founder of Wild Tribute, said the Saguaro NP research aligns with the company’s goal of donating 4 percent of its proceeds to protect historic and wild places.

“It’s enormously important that researchers have the resources and capacity to protect this nation’s biodiversity, which is threatened by climate change,” said Kieffner. “We feel it’s our responsibility at Wild Tribute to be part of the solution since we all share the same Earth.”

The Saguaro NP research will provide baseline data on the park’s nearly 1,200 species of native plants in the Rincon Mountain District, located in Pima County, Arizona. The park contains 67,000 acres of wilderness spanning desert to forest. 

In this area, species from the Rocky Mountains and the subtropics intermingle, and many of the high-elevation, moisture-loving species are utilizing rare microhabitats in an otherwise dry environment where climate change, drought-induced wildfires, and decreasing snowpack could eventually eradicate them if measures aren’t taken to preserve them.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra). photo courtesy of Mary Owen, NPS

The moisture-loving plants considered most vulnerable to climate change include Thurber’s bog orchid (Platanthera limosa), known to be in only one spring-fed, high-elevation drainage; smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), known to exist in only one localized area of shallow groundwater; and giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata), known to inhabit only a single mid-elevation spring. Other species, like white panicle aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum var. hesperium), have not been sighted in targeted searches and may have already died out.

“It’s worth underscoring how special the biodiversity of the Rincon Mountains is, as well as how threatened it is by climate change and the associated wildfire risk,” said Dan Beckman, a botanist who is co-leading the yearlong study with park biologist Don Swann. “As a Madrean ‘sky island’ range, the Rincons contain many species that are extremely rare in the US, and also represent a fascinating confluence of disparate floristic influences.”

The team will employ survey methods developed over the past five years in remote areas of the park that will identify unique plant communities and biodiversity hotspots. The hope is that their findings will help the park’s fire management team in targeting specific areas for prescribed burning, which will protect highly valued and rare biodiversity. 

The researchers will log georeferenced occurrence data for locally rare or never-recorded plant species through collections and photo records. Each collection or photo record will include coordinates, habitat description, the presence of other species, and a description of the plant population.

“It’s increasingly clear that climate change represents an existential challenge to the resources that national parks were created to protect,” said Swann. “It’s also becoming clear that we need new tools and an expanded role for the community if we have any hope in protecting these resources for future generations.”

This painting depicts the burning of the Confederate wagon supply train near Apache Canyon. photo courtesy of Roy Andersen, NPS

By Robert Pahre

The Battle of Glorieta Pass, which took place from March 26 to 28, 1862, was the decisive battle of the Civil War in New Mexico. While the battlefield has had historical markers since 1939, the stories you learn on the field have changed since the National Park Service took over in 1993. The landscape of interpretation tells not only the story of a battlefield but the story of how we tell the story of a battlefield.

The battle marked the end of the Confederacy’s New Mexico campaign. Their plan for the campaign was pretty straightforward. Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley and his Texan volunteers would advance up the Rio Grande from El Paso to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. From there, they would move eastward along the Santa Fe Trail, crossing the mountains at Glorieta Pass, and then turn north. After seizing the supply base at Fort Union, Sibley would take the mines of Colorado while disrupting federal communications with California, Nevada, and Oregon.

The key to the campaign was logistics. The Confederates would have a long supply train stretching back to El Paso, and they needed Fort Union’s supplies to make the plan work. The Union commander, Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, lost every battle but won the campaign because he focused on the Confederate supply problem.

They fought various engagements up the Rio Grande before arriving at the Glorieta Pass region in March. On the third and decisive day, Canby split his forces. The larger part fought a delaying action near Pigeon’s Ranch. They gradually gave ground to Sibley’s Texans while remaining in good order astride the Santa Fe Trail.

Canby sent about two-fifths of his troops over Glorieta Mesa to the Confederate rear, where they found and destroyed the rebel supply train. Without supplies, the Confederates had to retreat to El Paso, using a difficult route through the mountains. Fewer than half found their way back.

Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley

When interpreting the battle, the National Park Service defines it as a tactical Confederate victory. After all, the rebels held the ground at the end of the day. The park also notes that “the Confederate victory was short-lived” because Sibley no longer had his supply train.

That perspective is understandable. It rests on the fight around Pigeon’s Ranch, Glorieta Pass, and the Santa Fe Trail. That fight features two opposing forces trying to take or defend ground. It feels like a battle should feel—and, of course, it was a genuine battle.

Not only do visitors expect a battlefield to involve military units moving around it, but many military historians would also tell the story exactly that way. We see that perspective in a lesson plan the park developed for students: “The Battle of Glorieta Pass represented the high-water mark for a bold Confederate offensive into Union Territory on the western frontier. Here, volunteers from Colorado clashed with tough Texans intent on conquering New Mexico.” Tough soldiers fought bravely on both sides.

The Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised the first monument on the battlefield itself in 1939. The thousands of years of rich history have been preserved at Pecos National Historical Park, which has served as scenery for Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors, Santa Fe trail settlers, railroad workers, and even Route 66 travelers. Discover more about this historic location in the book Pecos National Historical Park Ancestral Sites Trail Guide or purchase an official park product from the Western National Parks Association.

A focus on brave soldiers also produced the first interpretation on the site. In 1866, New Mexico recognized its soldiers on one side of an obelisk in downtown Santa Fe, honoring “the heros of the Federal Army who fell at the battles of Cañon del Apache and Pigeon’s Rancho (La Glorieta), fought with the Rebels March 28, 1862.”

Remembering battlefield bravery motivated park advocates. The Glorieta Battlefield Preservation Society, a group of regional Civil War reenactors, worked to preserve the site, which had remained in private hands. The Council of America’s Military Past, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), and other military heritage groups worked with them to convince Congress to establish the Glorieta Battlefield Unit of Pecos National Historical Park.

A marker honors the Texas mounted volunteers. photo courtesy of Robert Pahre

The NPS then began to update this landscape of memorialization it had inherited. In addition to leaving the stone memorials in place, the historical park installed a collection of modern interpretive signs on the Glorieta Battlefield Trail. The trail makes a lovely hike today.

Park advocates helped fund the new interpretive trail and most of the signs. Signs funded by Texan and Confederate groups highlight the bravery of Sibley’s troops, and the ones placed by the State of New Mexico highlight the role of Hispanos, New Mexican Volunteers, and U.S. Regulars. While they also discuss how the Union soldiers burned the Confederate wagons, those signs place greater weight on the fight around Pigeon’s Ranch at Glorieta Pass. Again, the action on a conventional battlefield seems more important.

Taken as a whole, those signs tell a richer version of the story than the stone markers, and a more accurate one. Still, one might go further and turn current interpretation on its head. By dividing his force in the face of the enemy, General Canby had clearly decided to make the wagon train central to his battle plan. The 750 troops near Pigeon’s Ranch needed only to protect Union lines of communication behind them while the other 500 men circled behind Confederate lines. In this alternative perspective, the ground of Glorieta Pass mattered much less than the supply train—making this a decisive Union victory.

A second feature of the campaign also contributed to the Union victory. Well before the battle itself, the Union had won the battle for the hearts and minds of New Mexico’s citizens. The Confederates supposed that the locals, having become involuntary subjects of the United States in 1846, might welcome “liberation.” The rebels hoped they could rely on those locals for some supplies along the way. As it turned out, New Mexicans liked Texans even less than they liked gringos, and were not inclined to help out.

The battle for hearts and minds also brought New Mexican volunteers to Canby’s side at Glorieta. Lt. Colonel Manuel Chavez, who led those volunteers, had the local knowledge to guide the Union forces over the mesa to the Texans’ wagons. The Confederates had no good local sources of supplies once the wagons were gone, dooming their assault.

Robert Pahre is a professor of political science at the University of Illinois, where he teaches and researches the politics of national parks. This article is part of a current book project, titled Telling America’s Stories.

The mesquite tree represented in blue has maintained a steady presence through decades of drought, while Brittlebush represented by the gold areas took advantage of heavy summer rains in 2006 to expand its range. Mesquite and saguaros typically live for many decades. map courtesy of Emily Fule.

By Dave DeFusco

Desert vegetation surrounding the saguaro cactus in Saguaro National Park has been remarkably stable despite the presence of extreme weather over the past 30 years, according to a progress report on an ongoing research project, Three Decades of Ecological Change: the 2020 Saguaro Census, Phases I and II, supported by Western National Parks Association (WNPA).

The research, conducted by University of Arizona master’s candidate Emily Fule and park biologists Don Swann and Adam Springer, is part of the fourth survey associated with the Saguaro Census. They found that, since 1990, the total number of perennial plants has increased in both the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) and Rincon Mountain District (RMD) of Saguaro National Park, which is located in Pima County, Arizona.

Both districts are separated geographically by the city of Tucson. The TMD, often referred to as Saguaro West, encompasses 24,818 acres of land, much of it designated as wilderness, while the RMD, or Saguaro East, contains 67,000 acres of wilderness.

The census, which takes place every 10 years, is a large-scale monitoring effort of the park’s signature plant, the majestic saguaro, whose towering bodies and upraised arms are as much a Southwestern cultural symbol as a staple of the desert landscape.

In 2020, the researchers found that the total number of individual plants, or stems, in the RMD nearly doubled to 5,056 from 2,659 in 1990, and in the TMD, the number of plants swelled to 4,394 from 2,822, or by 44 percent. Total plant cover also expanded significantly during the past three decades. In the RMD, cover extended to 15,500 square feet in 2020 from 11,300 square feet in 1990, and in the TMD, it jumped to 10,300 square feet from 9,000 square feet.

Although researchers observed a slight decline in the number of trees in the park, prickly pear and saguaros, as well as Brittlebush, a smaller perennial plant that favors warmer conditions, have greatly increased in number.

“There is some evidence that the long-term drought of the past 20 years is beginning to impact some species,” said Swann, “but the results also show how slowly desert plant communities change. Many plants that were present on the plots in 1990 are still there today.”

The saguaro surveys are taken on 45 plots, each approximately 10,000 square feet. Twenty plots are randomly located in the TMD, and 25 are located within saguaro habitat in the lower elevations of the RMD. Within these large plots are 1,100-square-foot subplots. During the surveys, the researchers record all plants on each subplot and map their cover area.

The 30 years of data suggest that long-term climate warming, suburban sprawl and random events, such as wildfire and above-normal precipitation, are significantly affecting growth patterns. All of the plants they mapped flourished after cattle grazing ended in the 1970s, and during wetter, cooler conditions throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, the park and desert Southwest have experienced extended long-term drought, punctuated by short wet periods.

Drier, warmer conditions have been favorable for prickly pear and cholla, but less so for shrubs. Researchers in 2010 discovered a surge in small subshrubs that resulted from heavy summer rains in 2006. Some individual plants were killed by a deep freeze in 2011, but the long-term effects, according to the researchers, appear to be relatively small.

“It’s a fascinating park if you’re a biologist,” said Swann. “It goes from low desert elevations, where it’s very hot and dry, to 9,000-foot elevations that are overspread with conifers. Being at the top of the Rincon Mountains is like being in Maine or Oregon.”

NPS biologist Don Swann, holding a wildlife camera, said the Saguaro Census is a “partnership of generations.” photo courtesy of Konner Speth

The research is taking place in the Sky Island region, isolated mountain ranges that are an extension of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The area contains a mix of dry desert and subtropical plants. A lot of these plants grow like saguaros, said Swann, and their reproduction and growth are tied to reliable summer rains.

While the general number of and cover for plants have ballooned in the park since the 1990s, there have been winners and losers among species. Among common trees, velvet mesquite and foothills palo verde have declined, while white-thorn acacia and wolfberry have prospered. Among shrubs, the density and cover for creosote, pelotazo or hoary abutilon, and jojoba have remained stable, while fairy duster and limber bush have bloomed.

Nearly all common subshrubs have expanded in range, except for triangle-leaf bursage, a common species in the TMD that has decreased slightly in cover and density. Brittlebush, which exploded in numbers in 2010 following heavy summer rains in 2006, decreased in number in both districts by 2020 but increased in cover.

“This project highlights the huge plant diversity that we can see in the low-elevation Sonoran Desert,” said Fule, the lead author of the report who did most of the field work, as well as the data management and mapmaking. “In only 1,100 square feet, it was common to find over 20 different species, and on several plots we found as many as 30 species.”

Among cacti and succulents, prickly pear stands out as a dominant plant, more than doubling in cover in the RMD since 1990. Pincushion cacti have doubled in the same period, while the barrel cactus has declined by more than half. From 1990 to 2020, the overall cover of three common cholla species increased mainly because of an eruption of jumping cholla.

Plant communities, however, aren’t shaped by just large-scale, long-term environmental change. Rare events, such as wildfires, freezes, windstorms, and droughts, can spur their growth or hasten their decline. Since 1990, the park’s plants have been met with three very wet winters, a summer of torrential rain in 2006, and a deep freeze in 2011 that defied the prolonged drought and historically high temperatures.

During that wet summer in 2006, subshrubs, such as Brittlebush, multiplied to such an extent that surveyors in 2010 had to modify their sampling methods to accurately map the plants that were by then 3- to 4-years-old. The freeze in 2011 was a sudden reversal of fortune for many of the cold-intolerant Brittlebush, which died off in significant numbers. Overall cover did expand, however, as they continued to mature.

Emily Fule, a master’s candidate at the University of Arizona, did most of the mapmaking and data management for the fourth survey of the Saguaro Census.

Indigenous peoples drew sustenance from saguaros long before the cacti became a celebrated symbol of the Southwest. The Tohono O’odham, or Desert People, have lived in the Sonoran Desert for thousands of years. Their harvesting of the Saguaro fruit is a centuries-old practice that reaffirms their relationship with their traditional environment. They use the flowers, fruit, seeds, thorns, burls or boots, and ribs of the saguaro for food, ceremonies, fiber, manufacture and trade, and they use the fruit and seeds to make a ceremonial wine that is used in the Navai’t, and the Vikita, or harvest ceremony.

Saguaros are a master of survival and they reproduce for more than 100 years, but the species doesn’t produce a fresh crop every year. They like cool, wet conditions, and are especially resilient once they mature, but climate-induced drought over the long-term may affect their numbers in the park.

“Adult plants tend to survive and be much more resilient to drought than young plants,” said Swann. “Saguaros are a good case study of this. Once they reach a certain age when they can store water, it’s incredibly resilient to change and drought, whereas the new ones are decreasing in number. We’re not alarmed by this development, but we’re keeping an eye on it.”

The park’s evolving vegetation has also affected two species of deer in the park—white tail deer and mule deer, which like to eat saguaro flesh that hoards water. White tail deer tend to inhabit higher elevations and like to hide in the forest, while mule deer roam the grasslands and desert. Over the past 30 years, the researchers have seen a shift in behavior.

“In the 1970s, the white tail deer inhabited elevations at 5,000 to 6,000 feet and their presence in the desert was unusual,” said Swann. “Now they’ve moved into the desert where plants provide cover for them. Since mule deer can’t see as far, they’re uncomfortable with the plant cover.”

Swann called the Saguaro Census a “partnership of generations.” He said the team of researchers, which includes 500 volunteers, is “grateful” for the support from WNPA and the Friends of Saguaro National Park that is allowing them to continue the 80-year-old program.

“Saguaro National Park is particularly biologically diverse and has a rich scientific legacy that we feel responsible for continuing,” he said. “A lot of people who started the studies that I’m working on have been dead for a long time. Like them, I hope that I become a conduit for young people to continue these studies long after I’m gone.”

During Women’s History Month, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates a tradition of service and leadership that continues today in many NPS fields, including natural and cultural resource management, law enforcement, interpretation, administration, and much more. In honor of women’s history, several national park rangers from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area shared their insights about their roles and responsibilities, and provided advice for future generations of scientists.
KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.

SARAH WENNER

SARAH WENNER, biological technician

I work on the California red-legged frog reintroduction project, which aims to establish self-sustaining populations in the Santa Monica Mountains where the frogs were once abundant. To accomplish this, I assist with translocations from a nearby source population and perform regular monitoring of the sites to estimate persistence throughout the year. I consider this work important because it promotes conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in our park. My advice to my fellow scientists is to take every step with intention and always seek out new perspectives.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.

SARAH WENNER

SARAH WENNER, biological technician

I work on the California red-legged frog reintroduction project, which aims to establish self-sustaining populations in the Santa Monica Mountains where the frogs were once abundant. To accomplish this, I assist with translocations from a nearby source population and perform regular monitoring of the sites to estimate persistence throughout the year. I consider this work important because it promotes conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in our park. My advice to my fellow scientists is to take every step with intention and always seek out new perspectives.

Native Americans called Black soldiers stationed at Fort Union “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term of respect for their adversaries’ fighting spirit.

Wagons on the Santa Fe Trail were driven primarily by oxen. Unlike the Oregon and California trails, the Santa Fe Trail was primarily a two-way commercial trading route rather than a one-way emigrant trail.

Back on I-25, I soon reach Fort Union National Monument. Built of stout brick and adobe, it became the largest military post in the region, a travel hub and supply center for the Santa Fe Trail and other regional forts.

Several units of Black soldiers were stationed here, having joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Enduring constant racism, they were tasked with subduing hostile Indian forces who threatened the fort or the trail. Native Americans called them “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term of respect for their adversaries’ fighting spirit and physical resemblance to the powerful and much-revered bison. The only Fort Union troops ever awarded the Medal of Honor were six members of the 9th Cavalry—the Buffalo Soldiers—for their actions during intense fighting against Apache warriors. The irony of Black soldiers, fresh from the horrors of slavery, being honored for the subjugation of the Indigenous people who had honored them.

The main unit of the Pecos National Historical Park preserves the ruins of Pecos Pueblo, known historically as Cicuye (sometimes spelled Ciquique), the “village of 500 warriors.” Courtesy of NPS

A tinny recording of a bugle call plays over a pole-mounted speaker out by the flag. It’s hard for me to listen to, but this is part of the fraught history of New Mexico—and the nation. Truth is grist for the mill that feeds us all. Ours is a hard story to reconcile, a difficult climb but necessary, like the final stretch of trail into hills you cannot avoid as you travel toward Santa Fe.

Day 8 | End Of The Trail…And The Beginning

The Pecos River, at last. It flows down Pecos Canyon through the hills above Santa Fe, passing close to Pecos National Historical Park, the site of the ruins of Pecos Pueblo. During the years of the Santa Fe Trail, regular travelers would have witnessed the pueblo’s decline from a busy communal dwelling to a sparsely populated structure, falling into disuse and then ruin as the final few residents left to join distant relatives at the Jemez Pueblo to the southwest.

This pueblo’s time had come and gone, and the people found another way to live. Likewise, the Santa Fe Trail came and went. Created by linking older Native American trade and hunting routes, the Santa Fe Trail’s own end came from a similar new beginning: the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, with a spur that dropped south, first to Raton, and then to Santa Fe.

I follow the trail signs into the city, parking my car on Alameda Avenue under the cottonwood trees where the Santa Fe River trickles quietly beneath their leafy branches. Slowly, I stroll the narrow streets past the old adobe shops, low and thick-walled, and hung with colorful blankets and chile ristras, at last entering the central plaza built in 1610. It’s filled with music and flowers, and the bustling commerce of Santa Fe’s rich and deeply complicated history.

The goal of the Santa Fe Trail was to allow trade between cultures. In many places, our path is divided, split. Maybe, beyond mere goods and money, we can trade stories, gain personal understanding, with appreciation of the difficult journeys we have all undertaken. Maybe we can make a new beginning and learn to find our way, as we walk toward each other from both ends of the trail.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.

SARAH WENNER

SARAH WENNER, biological technician

I work on the California red-legged frog reintroduction project, which aims to establish self-sustaining populations in the Santa Monica Mountains where the frogs were once abundant. To accomplish this, I assist with translocations from a nearby source population and perform regular monitoring of the sites to estimate persistence throughout the year. I consider this work important because it promotes conservation of natural resources and biodiversity in our park. My advice to my fellow scientists is to take every step with intention and always seek out new perspectives.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

ANNIE STEVENS

ANNIE STEVENS, mountain lion technician

I do fieldwork related to our mountain lion research. I help collar, tag and collect blood, tissue and other biological samples from these fascinating animals. Recently, we captured P-95, the 95th mountain lion in our study! I feel lucky to help conduct research that is used to influence mountain lion conservation. My advice to other burgeoning scientists? What you lack in experience, make up with effort.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

JOANNE MORIARTY

JOANNE MORIARTY, ecologist

I work on one of the longest bobcat studies ever. My research works to identify and understand challenges that urban carnivores face as they navigate and persist in complex, developed, and fragmented habitats. For almost 20 years, I’ve used VHF radio and GPS telemetry to study and track hundreds of bobcats in our region. I capture and sedate the bobcats, affix radio collars, record measurements and take blood and tissue samples for analysis. I also set up remote cameras and do scat surveys to learn more about the local bobcat population. My advice to those pursuing the career of their dreams? Luck comes to those who are prepared. Always be the most prepared one in the room.

A sea of annual wildflowers blankets the slopes of the Smith Springs Trail. There are 1,000 plants species in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Courtesy of Cookie Ballou, NPS

Guadalupe Mountains National Park has more than 1,000 species of plants, from common desert species to plants that can only be found in the park. Ecosystems like the Chihuahuan desert, rocky canyons, and forests also support 60 species of mammals, 55 species of reptiles, and 289 species of birds.

Returning to the visitor center, I come upon six bicyclists resting in the breezy shade of the covered portico. They are refilling their water bottles and snacking on salty trail mix, their bike paniers laden with camping gear, their faces and arms sunburned. Six young people, all in their 20s, are traveling coast to coast. They started their trek on a Pacific beach near Santa Cruz, California, and will end by dipping their front wheels in the Atlantic near Wilmington, North Carolina. So far, they’ve pedaled for 29 days and over 1,200 miles across the country. Only 1,700 more to go. I tell them about the Butterfield Stage.

“This is the high point of our route, too,” says one young man. “It’s all downhill from here.” He grins knowingly. They were well aware of the potential for hardships to come on their journey. Their thirst quenched for now, they swing back into their saddles and ride off toward the east, following the long, quiet highway that has brought them this far, a road less traveled over the Guadalupe Mountains.

KATY DELANEY

KATY DELANEY, wildlife ecologist 

For many years, I have monitored reptile and amphibian population​s in the Santa Monica Mountains. This work has led our park to recognize the need for preserving and restoring stream habitat and biodiversity. I started a project to reintroduce the federally threatened California red-legged frog to these mountains to achieve those goals. The work is ongoing, and despite many challenges, we’ve experienced a measure of real success. My job is important because I’m trying to restore and preserve biodiversity in a highly fragmented city landscape.

A woman sitting in front of two computer
DENISE KAMRADT

DENISE KAMRADT, GIS specialist

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to store, manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced information—basically anything you can put on a map. In my job, I use GIS to examine spatial relationships and changes both between data layers and over time. For example, do bobcats favor one type of habitat over others or how has the distribution of coastal sage scrub changed? Another vital part of my position is keeping all of our scientific and park data organized and accessible, and ensuring it gets used. I’ve always loved maps. What could be better than an NPS job working with maps all day?

 

KATIE MCDANIEL

KATIE MCDANIEL, bobcat intern

I research bobcat movement throughout the park using cameras, collars, and radio telemetry. My position helps in answering important questions that we have about bobcat behavior in urban environments. The more information scientists have, the better they can make decisions that aid in the conservation of this species.

My advice to other women and girls in science is to stay authentic in pursuing what you find exciting and important. Don’t worry if your colleagues don’t always look or think the way you do. Science is more robust when all perspectives, experiences, and differences are considered. Also, science—especially natural resources—is fun!

Carnivorous plants populate the Sundew Trail. Courtesy of Mary Kay Manning, NPS

He squints.

“They’re pretty hard to find,” he says sympathetically.

He pulls out a map of Sundew Trail and a highlighter. “I’ve seen pitcher plants along the trail here,” and he traces a stretch, “and some along the powerline clearing. You might find sundews right here, at the start,” and he adds another yellow mark, “but honestly – look….” He quickly pulls out his phone and shows me a photo of a sundew.

“Oh, they’re tiny!” I exclaim. “I thought they’d be bigger. No wonder they’re hard to find.”

“Mm-hmm.” He nods. His photo includes a coin for comparison; the plant is smaller than the quarter. “Some are dime-sized.”

 

Sundew plants are small and hard to spot without some effort. Courtesy of Barbara Jensen

Suddenly, Big Thicket feels immense — a vast, watery world filled with millions of living beings. How will I ever spot this small life within such a massive tangle of growth?

He smiles encouragingly. “If you don’t mind getting your feet wet, there’s a whole patch of them right out here at the roadside ditch, right where you drove in. That’s where I took this picture, just yesterday.”

I thank him for the tip.

I lace up my boots. Tramping carefully out into the mushy ditch, I bend low, peering through the ground-cover of pine needles and dead leaves, focusing in on this miniature biome that I completely overlooked as I entered the preserve. After several minutes of searching, I notice something glinting in the sun. Turning, I catch a shine again, and a hint of red under the rusty-colored pine needles. Squatting, I spy a sundew.

Readjusting my vision, now I see them everywhere before me. The little rosettes have fleshy stems and leaves covered in miniscule red bristles that appear to end in shiny dewdrops.

Pitcher plants lure insects with sweet nectar. Courtesy of Scott Sharaga, NPS

These bristles are actually tentacle stalks, secreting the nectar-scented “dew” to attract insects. The sticky leaves are a trap, sprung by the tiny prey struggling to free itself. Wrapping its wriggling captive with its tentacles, the sundew’s secretions digest needed nutrients from the insect’s soft tissues. It’s a savage world, this wet ditch.

Nonetheless, encouraged by my find, I drive up the road to Sundew Trail. Here, an accessible boardwalk is part of a one-mile trail that loops through a wetland savannah. Yet, try as I might, I cannot spot any sundews where the ranger marked the map. Instead, I continue on to the pitcher plant bog.

Pitcher plants are much easier to spot. They send up foot-tall, modified leaves, each shaped like a narrow vase or pitcher. Down inside this funnel trap, an enticing, scented pool of digestive juices awaits unlucky insects that fall in from the waxy, slippery rim. This early in the spring, all I see are the tan stalks of last year’s plants, dozens or maybe hundreds of them standing dead in the marshy area between trees. I head up to the powerline clearing, but no matter how slowly and carefully I search, I’m not finding anything.

But I haven’t given up. I walk back toward the bog, looking closely at the dead pitcher plants. I can’t be sure of what I’m seeing, so I step carefully onto a wet log at the very edge of the trail, crouching to get a closer view. Sure enough, the pitcher plants in the warmest, sunniest area are putting out new growth. Four- to eight-inch pitchers unfurl like ferns beneath the old growth, rising from the common root that survives.

I have been lured in by Big Thicket National Preserve. And I’ve only seen a tiny corner of it. With more than 30 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback trails and 10 times that mileage in water trails to canoe or kayak, Big Thicket offers a wide variety of ways to experience this remarkable region.

Birdwatching, fishing, and hunting are all available; seasonal hunting permits are free, as are backcountry camping permits. I’d like to paddle my gear into Big Thicket’s quiet interior, and pitch my tent on a sandbar—really get my feet wet. I want to come back, try to find the butterworts as they begin blooming, and bladderworts that float. I’m starting to see how the incredible natural diversity, preserved and protected here, is the strength of Big Thicket.