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Appalachian selected for 21st Century Conservation Service Corps program

BOONE—Appalachian State University’s longtime partnership with the Blue Ridge Parkway and other National Park Service units has led to the university’s inclusion in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Program (21CSC).

The service corps program is an initiative to engage young people in protecting, restoring and enhancing National Park Service venues. In addition to Appalachian, partnership members include key federal, state, local and non-profit leaders and stakeholders.

Membership in 21CSC allows Appalachian and NPS units to identify joint projects and apply for federal funds for the work that would be conducted by students from Appalachian hired as interns or seasonal employees. Projects might include historic preservation, environmental or historic education activities, park restoration or work to protect natural spaces.

“This partnership is the tool that allows us to enter into future contracts or task agreements for services with the NPS project by project and apply for funding from the National Park Service to pursue those activities, including internships for our students,” said Dr. Mark Spond, Appalachian’s liaison with the Blue Ridge Parkway. Spond also is a research assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Planning.

“It’s exciting to see Appalachian continue this important relationship with the NPS and Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Dr. Neva Specht, senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and Appalachian first liaison with the parkway. “The National Park Service continues to recognize the important work our students have done for various NPS units since we received the first partnership in 2009, especially as funding and permanent positions in the parks, like the Blue Ridge Parkway, continue to decrease.”

Spond said the service corps program will provide an important source of support to the parkway, which doesn’t generate external revenues through admission charges. He estimates the parkway could be eligible for about $700,000 in funding over the next five years to address much-needed improvements.

“Membership in 21CSC also permits Appalachian to enter into agreements with National Park Service units across the country,” Spond said, “however, our greatest partnership with the National Park Service has been with the Blue Ridge Parkway and it’s likely to be that in the future.”

The program will be open to undergraduate and graduate students from any major, as well as recent graduates.

“I think that was one of the strengths of our proposal is that regardless of their academic discipline, our students come from an environment where an emphasis on natural, historical or cultural resources is valued,” Spond said. “Blue Ridge Parkway leadership views this as an investment in the next generation of their public land stewards.”

Although 21CSC is a new program initiated by the Obama administration, Spond said its intent mirrors what Appalachian has been doing for better part of decade. Students have received internships as wildlife technicians or cultural resource technicians or who have worked with the university’s Blue Ridge Parkway Corps, a group of students who provide services to help the park service protect the trails and plant life at Rough Ridge off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Other past partnerships with the parkway include biological resource monitoring, an oral history project, cultural restoration and maintenance, and an assessment of parkway structures for historical landmark status.

“One of my goals during the five years of the agreement is to have students working at other park service units, particularly in the Appalachian region’s historical and national parks and battlefields,” he said. “There is a diversity of National Park Service units within a 250-mile radius of Appalachian where we I think we can match student interests with park service needs pretty well.”