About RLCs

A graduate student conducts shorebird research at Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.
A graduate student conducts shorebird research at Kenai Fjords
National Park, Alaska.

NPS Photo

The first Research Learning Centers (RLCs) were established in 2001 as part of the National Park Service's Natural Resource Challenge, a broad initiative to guide and enable parks to revitalize and expand their natural resource programs. Promoting research in parks and making the results of research available and understandable to multiple audiences was one objective of the Natural Resource Challenge. As an interface among researchers, communication professionals, and the public, RLCs attain that objective and fulfill the vision of "parks for science and science for parks."

It is the mission of RLCs to increase the effectiveness and communication of research in national parks by:

Facilitating the use of parks for scientific inquiry

  • Helping parks identify and meet high-priority research needs
  • Providing researchers with housing, laboratories, field support, and assistance with proposals, permits, and reports
  • Offering student research fellowships and internships for park-based science

Supporting science-informed decision making

  • Delivering current and historic research results to resource managers
  • Providing technical assistance to managers on resource monitoring programs and other scientific activities
  • Conducting workshops and conferences for researchers and park managers

Communicating the relevance of and providing access to knowledge gained through scientific research

  • Hosting science-themed workshops, presentations, and conferences for the public
  • Developing diverse publications, videos, podcasts, and distance-learning activities on current science and resource issues

Integrating current scientific research into educational and outreach programs

  • Contributing scientific information and perspectives to visitor center and wayside displays
  • Conducting teacher workshops that emphasize science content and science literacy
  • Collaborating with interpreters to incorporate current science into public programs

Promoting science literacy and resource stewardship

  • Creating citizen science projects that engage visitors of all ages in scientific research
  • Collaborating with local partners on regional conservation and sustainability initiatives
  • Training community volunteers in invasive species control and other stewardship issues

The value of RLCs is enhanced through their collaboration with hundreds of partners, including universities, K–12 schools, non-profit organizations, community groups, agencies, and a range of NPS programs. By engaging partners in park research, scholarship, and educational activities, RLCs are able to leverage in-kind and financial support, broaden the understanding of national park resource issues, and improve stewardship of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes.

RLCs and the NPS Vision

For nearly 100 years the National Park Service has ensured the conservation and public enjoyment of America's most special places. Since their inception, RLCs have advanced the NPS mission by connecting parks, partners, and the public in the pursuit of research and education. The NPS vision for preparing for the next century is described in A Call to Action. For the next 100 years, RLCs will advance the Service's vision by:

  • Connecting all people to their parks in new and relevant ways
  • Strengthening the Service's role in educating people about America's heritage and values
  • Using the best science and scholarship to manage cultural and natural resources in the face of complex challenges
  • Becoming more collaborative, innovative, diverse, and efficient as an organization

RLCs are ideally suited to work with all branches of the NPS in achieving the organization's goals for the next century.

RLCs Work with All NPS Divisons

While the RLC program sits within the NPS Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate, much of the work done by RLCs contributes to interpretation and education, cultural resource management, youth outreach, climate change response, partnerships, and other functional areas of the NPS. Recent examples include:

  • Training supervisory interpretation staff and local teachers about climate change impacts via hands-on workshops (Crown of the Continent RLC)
  • Conducting a wide range of community outreach programs like Junior Ranger Day, Community Open House, and BioBlitz (Schoodic Education and Research Center)
  • Hosting a national youth summit for Groundwork, USA, a partner organization that engages urban youth in restoring their environments (Continental Divide RLC)
  • Conducting Climate Friendly Park workshops so that park facilities and operations contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation (Great Lakes Research and Education Center)
  • Supporting and collaborating with Inventory & Monitoring Networks on field projects and a science symposium (Ocean Alaska Science and Learning Center)
  • Documenting changes in historic sites within Mammoth Cave by comparing modern 3-D photographs to stereoscopic photographs taken in 1866 (Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning)

Last updated: January 25, 2016