2023 National Park Service research project

Deeply Rooted: Trees at the Foundation of America’s Environmental History


The National Park Service seeks a summer intern to work on a research project focused on exploring the environmental history of the United States, and roots of today’s conditions, through the lens of trees. The intern will work on this project in collaboration with the NPS National Capital Region’s Urban Ecology Research & Learning Alliance (UERLA) and Park History Program.


This internship is not paid. NPS will support a selected applicant in applying for university funding. Paid NPS history & preservation internships will be advertised at https://preservenet.org/ncpe-internships/ in February 2023. To find other paid NPS youth opportunities, please visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/youthprograms/jobs-and-internships.htm.


About us:

The National Capital Region includes ~16 national parks in Washington, DC, and surrounding counties in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, including a variety of large and small urban parks, national memorials, historic battlefields, scenic parkways, and forested parks established for camping and recreation. These parks, together, help tell the story of the founding of the nation’s capital; the roles of enslavement and Native dispossession in the early economy of the United States; major land clearing, transportation, and infrastructure efforts; and changing goals and approaches to land and resource use, conservation, and environmental science over time. Together, the NPS forested areas of the National Capital Region remove over 92 million pounds of atmospheric carbon per year.


UERLA, one of the 17 NPS Research Learning Centers, supports the region’s parks by investigating natural resource and science concerns to inform decision making within parks. UERLA translates science scholarship results into readily understandable information. Results are shared with park management via websites, presentations, workshops, and publications. The Park History program coordinates historical research and documentation for regional parks to help park managers and the public understand, interpret, and care for their historic places.


Project description:

The stories told in the United States’ national parks are constantly evolving and changing with new research. This internship would focus on uniting historical and scientific research on trees to connect two important focus areas: understanding the historical context of climate change and commemorating the upcoming 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.


The focus on one type of natural resource can generate a number of potential ways to explore natural and cultural history in the national parks, with approaches ranging from current scientific inventory and monitoring; to the role of the constitution in land use, commerce, and carbon release; to research on resource use, infrastructure, and impacts in the capital region over 250 years; to considering how the forests, farms, designed landscapes, and streetscapes of today’s parks came about and how they impact people. NPS staff will work with the intern to develop an interesting and feasible research question, identify sources, and create a product. Potential avenues for research might include:


  • What trees have existed in the National Capital Region over time? What drove the major changes in species, tree cover, and ecosystems in the past, and what change is happening now?
  • What could national parks’ stories of major historical events look like when told in relation to trees – for example, European colonization; African enslavement and labor; the building of Washington, DC; the construction of the C&O Canal, the B&O Railway, and trade from inland to the coast; the Civil War and Reconstruction; segregation; and the civil rights movement?
  • How did the “Founding Fathers” and their contemporaries view trees as a resource? How did their ideas shape American policy, identity, and environmental impacts in the past and present -e.g. in the constitution and early infrastructure projects? How did they influence treatment and understanding of Native people? What other cultural concepts existed, or exist today?


Educational goals: The intern will learn about:

  • The history, geography, and management of national parks in the National Capital Region
  • Career paths in cultural and natural resource management, scientific and historical research, and interpretation and communications
  • Basic principles of scientific communication, historical interpretation, and writing for land managers and the public
  • Practical training in areas of intern’s interest, which might include conducting primary source historical research; using software programs for data analysis and visualization; and using the NPS Content Management System for sharing findings online


Professional accomplishments: The intern will work on creating:

  • A file of information, images, and sources from the intern’s research for parks to use in interpretation or future studies
  • An example narrative connecting environmental history and science communication with the themes and goals of the NPS’s American250 commemoration
  • A virtual presentation and discussion with NPS staff
  • One or more creative products for sharing research with public audiences, such as web articles, for NPS.gov, draft social media posts for parks and programs, infographics and visualizations, or other audiovisual materials (to be determined based on interns’ interests and skills)


How to apply: The applicant should include a resume, transcripts (unofficial copies are acceptable), and a cover letter explaining their interest, any relevant academic, work, or volunteer experience, and how this project would support their academic or professional interests and goals. The applicant should also include a brief writing sample (ballpark: 500-1000 words).  Send materials to [email protected] by February 17, 2023 with ‘Trees at the Foundation’ in the subject line. Interviews will begin the week of February 20th.


Location: This internship may be conducted remotely. If the intern is located in the National Capital Area, there will be opportunities for partially on-site (hybrid) work at the National Capital Regional Office in Washington, DC, and for work in the region’s parks with Resource Stewardship & Science Staff.