Planning trails and interpretation in the nation’s newest NPS unit (2017).

Client Organization: 
VALL: Valles Caldera National Preserve (one of the nation’s newest park units)
Project Location : 
Jemez Springs, New Mexico, United States
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives: This project will create plans for the first trail to be constructed in the nation’s newest NPS unit (as of Oct.1 2015), the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The property (89,000-acres which encompasses the oldest and smallest resurgent caldera in the US) currently has no constructed trails, a downfall that is particularly threatening to resource preservation. The main goals of the project will be to (1) construct an interpretive trail(s) that prevents artifact theft, protects nearby delicate ruins/species, is ADA accessible, provides the visitor with useful resource information/signage, complies with NEPA and (2) provides the park with an accurate and current picture of visitation demographics.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance: This is a unique opportunity to construct an interpretive and accessible trail on a relatively pristine piece of federal land. The Valles Caldera National Preserve was recently handed over to the NPS on October 1st, 2015 and is expected to have record-breaking visitation in the coming years. However, current infrastructure cannot protect cultural or environmental resources from the impacts of this anticipated visitation. Unlike other National Park Units, we do not have extensive existing interpretive signage, trails, or visitor use information. Many future management plans are in the process of being developed at this time. VALL also must translate the NEPA policies developed for the Valles Caldera Trust (former experimental federal agency managing the property) to the more generalized interpretation of NEPA upheld by the NPS. The environmental policy implications are complex and fascinating. This is an once-in-a-lifetime situation that will provide VALL (and the National Park Service as a whole) with a fresh and creative template for developing future plans on this new park unit. Additionally, successful completion of this project will enable VALL to mitigate damage/loss of critical cultural resources in the area, while providing in-demand public access, and visitor demographic information.

Specific Activities & Duration: Specifically, we would like to have the team conduct a visitation and site survey that is not influence by (but is compliant with) existing NPS protocols. It is anticipated that students will need to visit the Preserve for 1-3 weeks for data collection and site survey. This project is contained and achievable for a 4-5 member team. The Preserve can provide housing; however, students may need a 4x4 vehicle.

Integrative Approach: We need extensive input from BEC students to encourage appropriate trail/park behavior in a culturally sensitive area located in the valley of a dormant volcano. Furthermore, there will be a critical need for design and construction skills held by Landscape Architecture students. Environmental Policy students are especially important to this project for two major reasons: (1) The Valles Caldera Trust (previous managing agency of property) is the only federal land management agency that has never been sued for NEPA compliance. Many members of the Trust NEPA team are still present and have valuable insights on how to honor the intent of the law, prevent litigation, and involve the public in meaningful ways (2) The team will need a strong voice to uphold the intent of NEPA in the planning of this project. The Valles Caldera Trust was also awarded the 2015 Environmental Excellence, NEPA Excellence award, alongside much coveted Resilient Landscapes funds. Finally, there is a potential role for Conservation Ecology due to the anticipated location of trails and prevalence of endangered species -namely the Jemez Mountain Salamander.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Landscape Architecture
Role for each program area: 

We need extensive input from BEC students to encourage appropriate trail/park behavior in a culturally sensitive area located in the valley of a dormant volcano. Furthermore, there will be a critical need for design and construction skills held by Landscape Architecture students.  Environmental policy students are especially important to this project for two major reasons: (1) The Valles Caldera Trust (previous managing agency of property) is the only federal land management agency that has never been sued for NEPA compliance. Many members of the Trust NEPA team are still present and have valuable insights on how to honor the intent of the law, prevent litigation, and involve the public in meaningful ways. (2) The team will need a strong voice to uphold the intent of NEPA in the planning of this project.  Finally, there is a potential role for conservation ecology due to the anticipated location of trails and prevalence of endangered species. Namely the Jemez Mountain Salamander.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

The Valles Caldera National Preserve is an active member of the Southwest Jemez Mountain Landscape Collaborative, a muti-agency collaborative that informs the implementation of CFLRP projects. There is an annual March meeting that would be ideal for students to present their project deliverables. This collaborative effort may influence the project design and implementation, offering a unique opportunity for networking with federal land managers, biologists, NEPA specialists, interpreters, tribal, and non-profit representatives.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

Deliverables

  • Cost estimates for trail construction. 
  • Trail design and layout (NEPA and conservation considerations will need to be extensively outlined in this).
  • Interpretive signage.

Implementation: 
Often projects that are shovel ready take priority in the National Park Service, and VALL lacks the staff and expertise to fully develop such projects in-house. Contingent on compliance, this Master’s project would likely be implemented or strongly influence impending planning efforts. VALL staff is very active in grant seeking and will also work with team to find grant monies for the implementation of their end product.

Contact full name: 
Brittney Van Der Werff
Job title: 
Lead Park Ranger
City: 
Jemez Springs
State or Country: 
NM
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Mark Lindquist
Contact Phone: 
575-829-4821
Contact information: 
SNRE alum
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Yun Liu, MS/MLA Behavior, Education and Communication/Landscape Architecture
  • Jamie McArdle MS/MLA Behavior, Education and Communication/Landscape Architecture 
Project Status: 
Past Project