Zachary Bolick (‘13) rock climbs and downhill skis, and hikes and runs the nearby trails, all less than an hour from his home in Salt Lake City. “Then I come back and enjoy the city, with its art, music, and other cultural offerings,” he says. “It’s also nice when what I do for work is what I’d do for fun.”

Bolick is talking about his job as Utah Community Coordinator with the National Parks Conservation Association. Since August 2013, he has been connecting state politicians, congressional representatives, community leaders, and local business owners with Utah’s 13 national-park units. It’s all about communication and collaboration between public lands and adjacent, or “gateway,” communities. The management decisions of both could affect each other, since they share similar concerns related to issues like employment and visitor lodging.    

Watch him work and he’s on conference calls, and in meetings and breakout sessions throughout the state. “We’re addressing economic development, branding and tourism of gateway communities, quality-of-life planning, funding concerns, and environmental integrity, among other issues,” says Bolick. One of his biggest challenges? “I’d like to be everywhere at once.” 

A Natural Fit

Good thing he’s where he wants to be with his career. Growing up in a Nashville suburb, Bolick says, “I always liked being outside.” His parents often took the family to wildlife refuges and parks in Tennessee, and North Carolina where he was born. His grandfather served for several years as the Eastern Vice President of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.    

So it was only natural for Bolick to begin his environmental career as a Student Conservation Association intern, at North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore, a place he visited as a kid. It was the first of several around the country for him, in between semesters as a Political Science and Global Studies major at the University of Tennessee, where he received his BA in 2009.

When he tied his love of both the outdoors and politics to his goal of a Masters program out West, he landed in OSU’s School of Public Policy, turning his focus toward preserving and protecting the environment. It’s one of the School’s main tracks that answer to OSU’s signature areas in forestry, marine and other areas of natural resources. Soon Bolick was chosen to lead a research project funded by the National Science Foundation.   

Says Denise Lach, director of the School of Public Policy and professor of sociology, “When I get money to do research, I look for a student who can get committed to the concept, and who’s willing to question me, so that together we’re growing intellectually. Zach was one of those kinds of students.”

A Good Foundation

For his research, he interviewed senior Willamette National Forest staff about their perceptions of its organizational changes in the last 30 years, and then looked for themes showing needed areas of improvement. The project informed him of the history of public lands, and rules and regulations that affect how they’re run and managed. “I learned to look at different data and viewpoints, and connect them holistically,” says Bolick. “And I was challenged to be better at statistical analysis and interviewing people.”

With Lach’s encouragement, he sought out conferences to present his thesis research. At one of them, he introduced himself to the National Parks Conservation Association.

“Ninety percent of our Masters graduates either go for a PhD or on to law school, or get jobs in the public policy field. Several of our graduates work for the State of Oregon, and we have one at The Hague and another at the

State Department,” says Lach. “They’re sought after because they can demonstrate the skills needed, and analyze problems and suggest solutions.” 

Bolick says, “I hope I’m able to communicate to people the value of our national parks, so they feel empowered to stand up for them. Without an engaged public, the future of these lands is uncertain.”

Fortunately, that’s less likely to happen, thanks to people like Bolick.

(Story: 2014)