Innovating Park Mobility into the Future

Wright Brothers National Memorial shuttle demonstration vehicle driving a park road
Wright Brothers National Memorial shuttle demonstration vehicle driving a park road


In the 1920s, a new National Park System was starting to react to a growing demand for an even newer concept: travel and park visitation by automobile. In the book, “National Park Roads: A Legacy in the American Landscape,” National Park Service (NPS) Historian Timothy Davis chronicled the early days of road planning and the importance of maintaining the surrounding park landscapes and environmental aesthetics – a concept the first NPS Director, Stephen Mather, and his staff were instrumental in supporting as they worked with Bureau of Public Roads leaders like Laurence Hewes.

In the century since the first automobile visit, transportation innovation has surfaced as a priority at parks across the country. Today, to continue keeping innovation at the forefront of park efforts, the NPS is working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation on an automated vehicle (AV) shuttle demonstration for Wright Brothers National Memorial, a place where a dream became a reality for motorized flight. Launching April 20, 2021, as part of National Park Week, this three-month project is just one piece of a greater initiative to test the suitability of emerging AV technologies for public lands. A similar three-month demonstration at Yellowstone National Park will begin in late May/early June of 2021.

Shuttle rides at both park demonstrations will be free and visitors may provide feedback via a passenger survey. Both pilots are part of an NPS effort to proactively explore emerging mobility trends for parks and include evaluations of potential benefits to or impacts on visitor experience, resource protection, equity and accessibility, safety, and partnerships. Just like Mather and Hewes in the 1920s, the NPS is preparing for this change with the same park ideals in mind, partnerships in hand and with eyes wide open on the future.

Last updated: April 19, 2021