Community Planner, Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, Southeast Region, NPS
I have the privilege of working for the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. federal agency tasked with preserving and caring for the natural and cultural resources of our nation’s special places and sharing their stories.
Rather than working in one of NPS’s 423 park units, I work as a Community Planner for the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program in the Southeast Region. We are invited by local communities across the nine-state and two-territory region that are looking for free technical assistance for their outdoor recreation and conservation projects. My projects vary depending on the community’s needs and range from organizational development and community engagement to water trail access planning and wildlife habitat protection. You can find out more about what I do here: Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
I first learned about urban and community planning at UTK, and I’m forever grateful for the career support I received from the Geography Department faculty. After graduating, I went straight to Florida State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning and received my master’s degree in planning with a focus on environmental planning. Since then, I’ve worked in the public sector as a planner in different capacities for local, state, and federal agencies primarily in Florida.
I also joined the Peace Corps as a Coastal Resource Management Volunteer in the Philippines where both my geography and planning degrees provided me with the interdisciplinary skills needed for international work. I owe the Filipino people for many of the community engagement skills I use today in my current NPS role.
Outside of work, I’m a big advocate in pursuing our passions besides just what we do for a living. I recently discovered mine is wildlife photography with a splash of conservation messaging (Instagram shameless plug: @michael.d.schilling). I believe when we take time for ourselves and have the opportunity to do what we love, we are then better able to serve our constituents, clients, citizens, etc. in more meaningful and genuine ways.
While my career path thus far has not been linear, I feel incredibly privileged to be where I am today thanks to the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. Thank you, I wish the new graduates all the best, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have any questions!