Incorporating Movements for Racial Justice into Planning and Management of U.S. National Parks




colonialism, justice, policy, racism, whiteness


The National Park Service (NPS) is the federal land management agency responsible for 423 units across the United States. Many of these parks are considered iconic cultural and environmental landscapes. However, scholarship from a number of disciplinary approaches has positioned the national parks and their management as problematic, particularly from Indigenous and racial justice concerns. National parks, like many cultural landscapes in the U.S., are infused with racial relations, with unpleasant histories and contemporary experiences that have both subtle instances of marginalization and explicit episodes of material violence. Recent developments in racial justice movements raise fundamental questions for the social and political maintenance, stewardship, and sustainability of the NPS. In a critical approach that centers whiteness as a lens of institutional critique, we consider the ways that the NPS could more critically engage with racial justice approaches in its planning and management. After acknowledging that histories of U.S. national parks as spaces designed for White, upper class people led to the displacement and marginalization of Indigenous and people of color, we look to contemporary avenues for increased racial justice. Through both local, small-scale initiatives and agency-wide, national policies, we consider how racial justice movements are both expectant and galvanized in this moment, providing a setting for the NPS to redress and make amends for previous harms and missed opportunities. Specifically, we identify recent federal and institutional policy and legislation as promising mandates for progress. We identify specific place-based tactics used by individual NPS units, such as renaming parks and geographic features, or interpretation that is both more accurate and more inclusive of marginalized populations. Our research examines planning and management as potential strategic practices that can more fully highlight and progress racial justice. We offer a range of specific questions that might guide more inclusive planning and management work in the NPS. Finally, we encourage the NPS, as an institution, as well as individual park units, to support contemporary racial justice movements, while simultaneously adhering to the agency’s historical dual mandate.

Author Biography

Jeff Rose, University of Utah

Assistant Professor-Lecturer in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourims