America's National Parks

Full Course Title: 
America's National Parks and Politics

"Politics" is the study of conflicts between competing interests for limited resources. Given the contradistinction between environmental protection and recreational tourism, both of which fall under the purview of the National Park Service (NPS), politics inevitably influences the policies which govern the national parks. The NPS oversees 413 parks on 84 million acres of land, including 59 major national parks, 128 national historical sites, 84 national monuments, 25 national military parks, and dozens of other preserves, seashores, lakeshores, parkways, and recreation areas. Thus, politics has a major influence on national parks all across the county.

Students in this class will examine how politics affect both the parks and NPS policy by examining a variety of environmental, economic, historical, and cultural issues. For example, we will examine how climate change is changing the scenery at Glacier National Park and how changes in wildlife policies at Yellowstone have literally resulted in a changed landscape. We will also examine the conflicts between the land-buying government and citizens who oppose its appropriation of private land. We will study the motives and actions of many diverse people who helped create and build the parks into what they are today. Additionally, we will conduct a comprehensive case study of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and discuss the wide range of political issues it has evoked since its inception, including how politics influenced its route, the government's use of eminent domain to displace private citizens, and the conflict that arose between the government and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians over a right-of-way for the Parkway's final fifteen miles. Finally, we will review meaningful ways that we can get involved in our communities and participate in civic activities to benefit our school, community, state, and nation."

Course Details
Course Number: 
Section Number(s) and Day/Times Taught: 
136: MWF 9:00am-9:50am
137: MWF 10:00am-10:50am
140: MWF 11:00am-11:50am
Fall 2024
Civic Engagement

Melissa Balk

Melissa Balk

Melissa has been an avid follower of politics since she first participated in Youth in Government in 9th Grade. As an undergraduate at West Virginia University, she spent a semester working as a legislative assistant for a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, and after graduating with a BA in political science, she interned for the West Virginia Democratic Party at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. She then moved to Washington, DC, where she worked as a grassroots organizer for a non-profit public interest organization. Although she eventually stopped working in politics in order to spend more time with her family, she continued to diligently keep up with current events. In January 2014, she entered the master's degree program at Appalachian, and she subsequently began teaching American National Government and Politics. Melissa enjoys incorporating local current events into the class lessons to encourage students to get involved, and to realize their ability to effect change.

When she is not teaching or studying politics, Melissa enjoys hiking and traveling to national parks around the country. She has visited 24 of the 59 national parks so far, and she is always planning her next trip.