Whose National Park Service? An Examination of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion Programs from 2005–2016


  • Courtney L. Schultz
  • Jason N. Bocarro NC State University
  • KangJae Jerry Lee NC State University
  • Aby Sene-Harper Clemson University
  • Mickey Fearn NC State University
  • Myron F. Floyd NC State University




Diversity, inclusion, National Park Service, organizational culture, relevancy


As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, there has been a growing concern about the ability of the National Park Service (NPS) to remain relevant to individuals from different backgrounds, establish deeper connections with future generations, and to address the underrepresentation of diverse groups among national park visitors and in the NPS workforce. Implementing successful diversity and inclusion programs to foster relevancy, diversity and inclusion (RDI) is critical for the agency’s future. As the NPS implements RDI programs system wide, an assessment of current programs and initiatives is timely, providing information on the extent of follow-through, given policy directives and calls for increased focus on diversity in management. Thus, the purpose of this study was to catalogue NPS RDI programs targeting the areas of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, ability, age, economic status, gender, non-English speakers, tribal communities, urban populations, and veteran status, as well as examine some of the key characteristics related to the management and administration of these programs. In fall 2016, NPS employees were invited to participate in a comprehensive online inventory of RDI programs implemented between 2005 and 2016. A total of 161 park units participated, yielding a park unit response rate of 39%. A total of 1,359 RDI programs were reported, resulting in an average of 2.68 diversity aspects per program. Age (n=662; 17.7%), ethnicity (n=456; 12.2%), race (n=434; 11.6%), economic status (n=391; 10.4%), and urban population (n=361; 9.6%) were the dominant aspects of diversity reported across the RDI programs and initiates. The majority of the reported RDI programs (61.6%) were located in three regions: Northeast (n = 364; 26.8%), Midwest (n = 247; 18.2%), and Intermountain (n = 225; 16.6%) and concentrated in one of two emphasis areas: Co-creation and Community Engagement (n=563; 41.4%) and Connecting Youth with Our Mission (n=251; 18.4%). Nearly half of the identified programs (n=645; 47.5%) focused on an external audience such as visitors and 497 (36.6%) programs focused on both an external and internal audience. The number of new RDI programs has steadily increased from 16 new programs in 2006 to 256 new programs in 2016. Of the 1,359 RDI programs, 17.7% (n=240) of reported RDI programs are conducted annually. Internal funding supported 61.7% (n=838) of the reported RDI programs. For the collaboration structure, 42.8% (n=581) of programs collaborated internally and 53.9% (n=733) relied upon external collaborations. These findings were discussed based upon previous NPS management scholarship as well as Stanfield McCown’s (2011, 2012) conceptual model comprised of six connected themes critical to the success of NPS diversity efforts. The discussion also presented several managerial recommendations for the NPS such as refocusing efforts to broaden the amount of diversity aspects represented in RDI programming, creating more repeat programs to ensure youth and community members establish long-term relationships, initiating more RDI programs specifically for internal audiences, increasing external funding sources, and cultivating external partnerships to improve program sustainability. Subscribe to JPRA

Author Biographies

Courtney L. Schultz

Executive Director of Health and Technology Partners, LLC. 

Jason N. Bocarro, NC State University

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

KangJae Jerry Lee, NC State University

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

Aby Sene-Harper, Clemson University

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

Mickey Fearn, NC State University

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

Myron F. Floyd, NC State University

Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management





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