Camping for Credit: UNA Receives Five-Year Grant From National Park Service

May. 14, 2009


Funding creates service-learning courses in Southeastern and Intermountain regions of the National Park Service

FLORENCE, Ala. – Their tents, duffle bags and hiking shoes aren’t quite packed, but they will be this fall. First, the faculty of the University of North Alabama’s Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) must recruit 15 students to travel to some of the nation’s most spectacular National Park Service areas – for academic credit.

Dr. Tom Coates, HPER department chair, doesn’t expect it to be a difficult task. “Going into places like Yellowstone, the students are going to see the glitz just like every tourist. But then they’re going to see the day-to-day operations of the park,” he said.

The new program – the UNA Conservation Corps – is being funded through a five-year grant of about $1.1 million from the National Parks Service. The grant will cover all student expenses associated with the program, including course tuition.

Plans are to recruit students from a variety of majors. “Learning experiences students will gain will compliment many different fields of study, especially for students interested in careers with the National Parks Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service or similar resource management agencies,” said Dr. Mike Hall, co-director of the UNA Conservation Corps.

The program will include about nine different courses, ranging from Natural Resource Management to Expedition Leadership. Its first class, Interpretation of Cultural and Natural Resources, will begin this fall.

The class will include about four weekends per semester involved in service-learning projects at Southeastern region NPS areas, such as Shiloh, Natchez Trace and Russell Cave. Next summer, students and faculty will head out West, where they’ll spend three to four weeks on projects at Intermountain region NPS areas, such as Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain or Grand Teton national parks.

While the program’s first service-learning project has not yet been determined, Coates and Hall expect the group to work on projects similar to those of the Rocky Mountain Experience Model, which Coates developed and directed in the 1990s. Projects of that program included trail and campground restorations, conducting cave tours and nature walks, construction projects, installation of campsite facilities, and a variety of similar projects identified as important by the National Park Service.

For more information on the UNA Conservation Corps, contact the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at 256-765-4377 or tecoates@una.edu.