Bill Frist to Congress: Stand up for nature. Don’t starve EPA and conservation programs.

I worry about the health of our people, our natural resources and our government institutions. Investing in nature would put us on a stronger path.

Earlier this month, my wife Tracy and I explored on horseback for three days the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area — a gem of the national park system in east Tennessee. As we rode the trails, experiencing the gently flowing creeks, the quiet wooded paths, the inspiring sounds of birds and kids playing along the way, we delightfully soaked up the present, reflected fondly on the past and what it took to make our experience possible, but also worried about the future.

As a doctor and scientist, I speak and write often on the well-established connection between the physical, mental and emotional health of people and their natural environment. As a former congressional legislator, I witnessed the synergistic connection between responsible, smart government and cooperative, forward-leaning partnerships that help people from all walks of life thrive and live happier and more fulfilling lives.

But right now, I worry about the health of our people, our natural resources and our government institutions. Getting back to basics for things we all need — healthy land, clean air and water — would be a good start to putting us and our nation on a stronger path. To do that, we need Congress and the administration to fully support our diverse public lands and investments in our natural resources through effective conservation and science programs.

When I served in the Senate, I saw firsthand how healthy lands and waters support our businesses and economies.

More than 24 million jobs are tied to our land — 9.3% of total U.S. employment. More than 7 million of us are employed in outdoor recreation; 17 million of us have agricultural jobs. Forests and fisheries account for another 4.8 million jobs. Even beyond that, natural infrastructure such as reefs, dunes, marshes, floodplains and forests help protect our communities from flooding and other natural disasters.

As Congress shapes the nation’s budget, funding conservation and science programs is essential to sustain the health of our lands and waters. Many of these programs also stretch limited taxpayer dollars through partnerships with farmers, ranchers, companies and communities across the United States.

We should encourage those who represent us in Congress to stand up for nature so nature can do its job sustaining and protecting us. It’s a concept lawmakers from both parties can support. For example:

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund benefits every state — and nearly every county — across the nation, conserving community parks, local ball fields, public trails and critical water supplies. The program provides states the ability to target funding toward local priorities and expands the impact of federal dollars through millions more in matching public and private fund
  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program, created under the Farm Bill to empower communities and support public-private partnerships to find local solutions to tough natural resource challenges, has mobilized more than 2,000 conservation partners who themselves have committed $1.4 billion in financial and technical assistance to on-the-ground projects — nearly two times the amount provided by the program’s federal funds
  • Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency faces potentially steep cuts, which would impact regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Since its inception in 2010, the Initiative has funded hundreds of projects to combat invasive species like Asian carp, clean up toxic chemicals, and protect and restore wildlife habitat across the region. The program has also been good for the economy, bringing approximately $2 in economic return for every restoration dollar invested, according to a Brookings Institution report

Congress has the power to support these and other cost-effective programs, as well as the public lands that provide so much to all of us.

Our three-day get away on horseback reminded us how grateful we are to our tradition of bipartisan support for conserving America’s natural resources. Investing in nature is a wise investment in the health and well-being of our nation and the American people. It is a worthy and critical investment I hope Congress will support.

Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee, a heart transplant surgeon and a former Senate majority leader, serves on the Board of Directors of The Nature Conservancy.

California Deserts In ‘Super Bloom’ Thanks To A Wet Winter

People are scattered throughout the hills and valleys of Anza-Borrego, Califonia’s largest state park, taking in the beauty of a rare “super bloom” of wild flowers.

NIna Gregory/NPR

In some parts of the country, cold weather is threatening crops. Meanwhile, California has been so unseasonably wet that its deserts are experiencing what’s called a “super bloom.” After years of drought, the normally arid desert is lush.

“It just looks like a sea of flowers,” says Janet Gordon, a geologist from Los Angeles.

Visitors have flocked from as far as Asia and Africa to see the rare floral bloom in the California desert.

“You got purple, red, yellows and blues,” adds Joe Sheidness, visiting from San Diego.

“It’s fantastic,” says Dennis Brian, from Reno, Nev., who says he was a flower child in the 1960s. “You don’t see this very often. The little flowers look so delicate, but yet they’re prolific. They’re everywhere.”

Full article …


Nina Gregory/NPR

‘Bark ranger’ helps park rangers keep animals and people safe

Black-and-white dog overlooking bighorn sheep in mountain meadow (NPS/A.W. Biel)
Gracie the “bark ranger” surveys her territory. (NPS/A.W. Biel)

Gracie is a 2-year-old border collie with a mission. She is Glacier National Park’s first “bark ranger” — a skilled herder, she keeps mountain goats and bighorn sheep away from park visitors.

Gracie also helps rangers teach visitors good park manners. Getting too close to wildlife to take selfies isn’t a good idea for animals or humans, for example. And trying to touch the wildlife isn’t smart either. Both are problems in national parks.

Full Story>>

STIHL Inc. Supports State Park Director’s Leadership School’s 10th Anniversary


America’s State Parks have been one of our nation’s natural treasures for more than 100 years, and that’s why, here at STIHL, we continue to support the men and women who attend the National Association of State Park Director’s (NASPD) Leadership School. This year, we continued to provide student scholarships to the next generation of park professionals and remained the exclusive outdoor power equipment sponsor of the NASPD’s annual training program.

This year marks the Leadership School’s 10th year of providing park personnel with the education, training, networks, and tools to prepare themselves, and their teams, to take on larger responsibilities in their park systems. “The partnership with STIHL Inc., who’s sponsorship has provided opportunities for those, where out of state travel restrictions would have otherwise limited participation, has been vital to its broad success,” said Lewis Ledford, school director and executive director of NASPD.

Over the past decade, more than 400 senior park leaders, from 44 states, have graduated from the program; while participation and enrollment continue to grow. Each student goes through a two-year training program which includes online education courses and hands-on training at the Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, W. Va. The leadership program allows experienced park managers and students to interact, share experiences, and learn about a variety of topics, including state park planning, calculating budgets and technology trends in parks. The combination of the students’ passion and the park directors, who volunteer their time to teach, makes this leadership school both a unique and exciting program. Here at STIHL, knowing our company’s contributions, as a sponsor and a scholarship contributor, is both gratifying and rewarding for all of us.

Corporate Communications Manager Roger Phelps with the 2017 STIHL Inc Scholarship Recipients






We would like to congratulate this year’s scholarship recipients:

  • Carmino Paliotta Jr., Rhode Island
  • Micheal Mahoney, Rhode Island
  • Kendra Wallis, Missouri
  • Melissa Bueker, Missouri
  • Lesley Porter, Vermont
  • Amy Grout, Montana
  • David Bennetts, Montana
  • Adam Morris, Massachusetts
  • Erik Otto, Missouri

Local and State Park Groups Congratulate New Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 5.14.50 PMrsz_1logo-11




Media Contact:
Heather Williams                                                                                                              Lewis Ledford
703.858.4743                                                                                                                        919.218.9222                                                                                                  


Local and State Park Groups Congratulate New Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke

NRPA and NASPD pledge support to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund and better connect youth to the outdoors

For Immediate Release

Ashburn, Va. (March 1, 2017) — The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) congratulate Ryan Zinke on his Senate confirmation to serve as the new Secretary of the Interior and applaud his continued support for permanently authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). NRPA and NASPD also recognize U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for highlighting the significance of LWCF as it relates to supporting outdoor recreation in local communities and city parks as part of his exchange with then nominee Zinke during January’s confirmation hearing. Both men agree on the importance of connecting youth to the great outdoors and teaching them the value of public lands, which NRPA and NASPD fully support.

“Millions of people utilize local parks every day and I commend Sec. Zinke for recognizing the need to protect these spaces — especially for future generations,” said Barbara Tulipane, NRPA President and CEO. “Preservation of our public lands is a top priority. Now is the time for others to follow suit.”

“The need to preserve access to our nation’s public lands has never been greater,” said Lewis Ledford, NASPD Executive Director. “State park visitation numbers are at an all-time high and with Sec. Zinke’s support to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund we can ensure the accessibility and economic impact of our state parks for generations to come.”

During his confirmation hearing, Zinke vowed to work in partnership with local communities and states on issues relating to the U.S. Department of Interior and its agencies like the National Park Service. NRPA and NASPD look forward to working with the department, as well, on preserving access to public lands through LWCF and other related conservation and outdoor recreation initiatives.

A recent poll conducted by NRPA reaffirms the fact that Americans are passionate about the preservation of public lands, such as local, state and national parks. Eighty-two percent of Americans polled say it’s important to preserve public lands, including parks, recreation areas, forests, conservation areas, wildlife refuges, etc. This includes 62 percent of Americans who say it is either “very” or “extremely” important to protect open space.

To learn more about NRPA, visit

To learn more about NASPD, visit


About The National Recreation and Park Association
The National Recreation and Park Association is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation and conservation efforts that enhance quality of life for all people. Through its network of more than 52,000 recreation and park professionals and advocates, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy and active lifestyles, conservation initiatives and equitable access to parks and public space. For more information, visit For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit

About The National Association of State Park Directors
The National Association of State Park Directors promotes and advocates for the state park systems across America in providing for conservation and management of natural and cultural resources, quality outdoor recreation experiences, connecting children and families to nature and the outdoors, and more. With more than 10,200 park areas and visitation of 760 million annually, the economic impact to local communities is estimated to exceed $20 billion each year. America’s State Parks is an alliance of state park systems in all 50 states.

CA State Parks Bring Live Field Trips into Classroom Virtually


In order to provide unique, hands-on learning experiences for children, California State Parks has been working to expand its distance learning program, PORTS(Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Schools).

PORTS is a collaboration with innovative ed tech companies to provide one-of-a-kind learning experiences for teachers and students. For instance, in a partnership with Belkin Education, a networking and accessories company, PORTS is offering real-time virtual field trips in 10 California state parks, conducted by state park rangers. Units of study include kelp forests, redwood ecology, monarch butterfly migration and historical subjects like the Gold Rush.

Full story >>

NRPA’s Top 5 Predictions for Parks and Recreation in 2017


1 – Parks Are Everywhere.

2 – Want to Live Longer? Live Near Parks.

3 – Data Will Drive Budgets.

4 – Conservation Will Become as Important as Recreation.

5 – Virtual Reality Tours Will Replace Maps and Brochures. 

More details …

Public/Private Effort To Establish First Lodge and Conference Center in WA State Parks

Commission approves lease agreement

to save Saint Edward Seminary building

Daniels Real Estate will invest nearly $50 million to rehab historic building; associated land exchange will add acres and trails to state park


OLYMPIA – Jan. 9, 2017 – In an historic decision today, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to accept a 62-year lease with Daniels Real Estate of Seattle to rehabilitate the Saint Edward Seminary Building at Saint Edward State Park near Kenmore.

As part of the agreement, Daniels agreed to purchase a 9.7-acre private property that lies adjacent to the park and transfer it to State Parks in exchange for adaptive re-use of the building as a lodge. The property adds to the park’s acreage and natural area along Lake Washington and allows the agency to appropriately manage trails as part of Saint Edward State Park.

“This project to rehabilitate Saint Edward Seminary will be a great value to the state of Washington ” said Steve Milner, Commission chair. “Thanks to Daniels, our staff and the public who participated in our very thorough public process, we are going to be able to change a significant liability into an asset for our state. Our state’s population continues to grow, and Saint Edward and the Seminary are in an urban area. I think the historic structure will draw new people into the park and introduce them, not only to the historic features but the natural aesthetic of the park and our state.”

“We’re very excited to know that this incredible iconic building will be saved for the public to enjoy,” said Don Hoch, agency director. “We’re grateful to Daniels for his ongoing commitment and for his generosity and passion for historic projects and the public benefit they provide.”

Kevin Daniels expressed his enthusiasm for what he says is a unique and challenging project. “It was  satisfying to see the overwhelming support for the project,” Daniels said. “It’s also been enjoyable meeting and talking with the people in the community of Kenmore, realizing that the park and this project are very important to them. We’re all going to be working together on something special for our state and future generations.”

The Commission had a special public meeting on Thursday evening in Kenmore to take final public comment on the proposal, then convened a special meeting today in Olympia for consideration on the decision. The special meeting included a conference line at Kenmore City Council so that interested public could listen in.

More than 200 people attended the Thursday public meeting, with a large majority voicing supporting of the project. Some testimony included concerns over specifics of the lease, including the amount of outdoor education space provided and issues around parking revenue. Staff subsequently met with Daniels and addressed these concerns, providing lease refinements to the Commission prior to their decision today. The lease and amendments are available online:

Following the special meeting today, Kevin Daniels and State Parks Director Don Hoch signed the lease agreement and the property transfer. Once the property transfer is finalized, the lease will take effect.

State Parks acquired Saint Edward State Park in 1977. Since that time, the agency has explored a number of ideas for preservation, rehabilitation and re-use of the park’s iconic Seminary Building and grounds. In September 2014, the Commission considered management options ranging from building demolition to rehabilitation—and adopted rehabilitation as its preferred option.

The Commission determined it would need to enter a partnership with a private or public entity to secure the capital investment needed to successfully rehabilitate the building. Any project would be required to align with the State Parks mission.

It is anticipated that the lease agreement will generate additional annual revenue for State Parks through new Discover Pass sales and approximately $260,000 per year through access fees paid by overnight lodge guests.

For more information and background on the Saint Edward Seminary planning process, visit:—Seminary

Record Participation in the Guided First Day Hikes In America’s State Parks


American’s Enjoy the Guided Hikes in State Parks on January 1

Across the nation thousands of Americans started 2017 off on the “right foot” by attending a First Day Hike in America’s State Parks. On January 1, 2017, more than 1,300 First Day Hikes were offered in all 50 states from Alaska to Florida to 61,800 participants covering over 111,850 miles.

“America’s state parks offer diverse and unique natural and cultural resources. First Day Hikes are a way park rangers, naturalists and volunteers can bring history to life and share their insights of nature,” said Ellen Graham, First Day Hikes Coordinator and Chief Naturalist, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites.

Iowa almost tripled the number of participants and miles hiked in 2016. This year they added nine new parks and the annual event is becoming a family friendly tradition with returning hikers in spite of the 30-degree temperatures. As a hiker in a Washington State Park stated, “I like walking in the park in the winter, no snakes and no bugs, and it is so quiet I can hear my heartbeat.”

Despite temperatures that never got above freezing in South Dakota, they saw the highest attendance in six years. Two parks got out the snowshoes and one even had cross-country skiers! In Montana with sub-zero temperatures and heavy falling snow in many areas, there were hearty souls hiking along the trails. Over 700 hikers braved 5-12 inches of snow in in New Hampshire parks and enjoyed the winter wildlife, spotting 3 bald eagles.

In Hawaii some hikers began their trek to see the sunrise at 2:30 a.m. over the ocean with views of Molokai and Maui from 560-foot cliff top perches. Several states hosted fun runs and fitness challenges. In Indiana there were over 200 participants for a 3.5 mile run.

As an Arkansas hiker stated, “We were here last year and enjoyed it so much we wanted to come back this year!”


The National Association of State Park Directors promotes and advocates for the state park systems across America in providing for conservation and management of natural and cultural resources, quality outdoor recreation experiences, connecting children and families to nature and the outdoors, and more. With more than 10,200 park areas and visitation of 760 million annually, the economic impact to local communities is estimated to exceed $20 billion each year. America’s State Parks is an alliance of state park systems in all 50 states.

Below is a brief video link from Hawaii on their pre-dawn hike, as well as a sampling of the media reports from various states.