The Urban Agenda in Jacksonville

During his time as Urban Fellow for Jacksonville, Nathan worked to implement the Urban Agenda by meeting with community members, partners and other stakeholders to identify community needs. Nathan worked with Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve to work alongside the community to design and implement creative and meaningful solutions to community needs.

Jacksonville & the Urban Agenda Overview Document


With vacation destinations such as Orlando and Miami in Florida, Jacksonville is sometimes the forgotten community. Few people recognize that it is the largest city (by area) in the contiguous United States, that it has an expansive park system with over 80,000 acres, and that it is an amazingly diverse community.

Among the handful of National Park Service (NPS) sites in or near Jacksonville, the most familiar is Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve (Timucuan), named for the indigenous peoples who previously populated northern Florida. The NPS has also been active in Jacksonville over the past decade through a number of NPS community assistance programs and partnerships. This includes work like the recent designation and preservation of the Norman Film Manufacturing Company National Historic Landmark, a prominent studio that produced silent films featuring all-African-American casts in the 1920s, when Jacksonville was heralded as the “Winter Film Capital.” The NPS River, Trails and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) Program has also been heavily engaged in Jacksonville by helping establish the Groundwork Jacksonville trust to help restore and revitalize historic neighborhoods in city’s urban core and to employ and develop local youth.

In talking with Urban Fellow Nathan Souder about the city and its rich history, it is clear that Jacksonville is brimming with opportunities to look at relevancy and collaboration critically and served as the perfect laboratory to test the tenets of the NPS Urban Agenda in the Southeast Region.

Despite the election of a new mayor at the very beginning of this project, the City of Jacksonville was highly supportive of the Urban Agenda, providing Souder with a secondary “home-base” office with city parks and contacts at city hall. This opened an opportunity for a more active communication and coordination role between the NPS and the city, strengthening their working relationship. While building buy-in for the Urban Agenda, it became evident that Jacksonville had, according to Souder, “substantial capacity and partners for the kinds of programs and partnerships the NPS was looking to form, but the city needed a convener to connect and expand existing efforts.”


One of the main focuses in Jacksonville was on youth engagement and the creation of fun, educational programming. Many NPS units are faced with the challenge of transporting students to their parks, consistently, without grant funding. Through working with the City of Jacksonville, Souder learned that the NPS could tap into their field trip schedule. Souder explained, “If hundreds of field trips hosted by the city and community partners could bring their kids to Timucuan, we could offer them fun and diverse activities with no entrance fee and no grant monies needed.” As a result Timucuan leveraged its recreational and interpretive resources to successfully support all seven City of Jacksonville Recreation Centers’ summer camps bringing hundred of youth to the park.

Furthering this youth focus through a culture of collaboration, NPS sought additional partner support and collectively established a pilot curriculum—Lift Every Voice—for afterschool and summer programs that engaged students in the area’s rich African-American history and sites while addressing the community’s expressed need to increase youth literacy. To add to the diversity, Atrévete a Explorar (Dare to Explore) was successful at connecting Hispanic and Latino audiences to recreational and educational opportunities at the Kingsley Plantation in Timucuan. An NPS partnership with Groundwork Jacksonville led to a week-long fishing camp, a Biodiversity Festival, and a series of campouts on City, State and Federal lands.


Bring something to the table

The implementation of the Urban Agenda in Jacksonville led to not only new programs and partnerships, but spurred staff at Timucuan to rethink existing program design and partner involvement. Souder explained, “Intentionally involving diverse groups in program design can create long term stewards and powerful partnerships.” By tapping into programs that seek out and promote the hiring of diverse youth—like the Park Service’s Latino Heritage Internship Program or partnerships with Historic Black Colleges and Universities—Souder was able to add a cohort of interns to the National Park Service team in Jacksonville to bring a fresh perspective to the existing work at Timucuan and better represent the diversity of peoples in Jacksonville.

View Park Visitors as Investors

It is important to recognize that each unit is part of a system and it is all too easy to treat visitors as a one-time exchange. Instead we need to be intentional and proactive about giving park visitors a reason to come back. Souder explained that as investors, “Current and target audiences should be brought into the decision-making process so that they can tell us what is relevant to them, not the other way around.”

Map Assets to Create and Maintain a Blueprint

The Urban Agenda spurred NPS and its partners to take a more comprehensive and holistic look at Jacksonville’s assets. Out of this work came an asset map—a delineated network of projects, partners, and available resources related to Jacksonville’s history and public lands. Given to the city to further the partnership between Timucuan and the local government, the asset map strengthens the collaborative efforts of NPS and partners and shows the NPS investment in an area. This tool was a key method in linking historically and culturally important sites across the city and providing important metrics to political appointees.



Investing in NPS capacity, trust-building with key constituents and partners, and establishing realistic targets for change were among Souder’s top recommendations. Above all, he underscored the importance of adopting a good customer service mindset and perspective when approaching partnerships. The NPS must build trust with its stakeholders and partners. Today’s culture is one filled with reviews and star ratings of anything—a ride-share driver, the restaurant one just ate at, and even the national parks. The NPS will develop greater brand loyalty if it continues to view partnerships as reciprocal relationships. Through the implementation of the Urban Agenda, he saw first-hand how effective it was to take time to build relationships with community residents, the City of Jacksonville, Groundwork Jacksonville, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, YMCA, REI, and Wilderness Inquiry, to name a few.

Download the Jacksonville Highlights PDF

During his time as an Urban Fellow, Nathan did extensive work to create maps of community assets. Check out this Jacksonville Asset Map he developed.

Signature Projects

Summer camp
JaxParks Summer Camps
In collaboration with the City of Jacksonville (COJ), all 7 recreation centers in Jacksonville with summer camp field trips brought students to both Kingsley Plantation and Fort Caroline. The City's Education Specialist worked with the Urban Fellow and park staff to develop programs for the field trips that were both fun and educational, and integrated learning lessons into the participants handbooks for the summer. This effort brought 400 youth to the parks, most of which had never been there before. Transportation was provided by the city.
Summer Break
Free Food at the Fort: Summer BreakSpot Program
Free Lunch @ the Fort
In collaboration with the Jacksonville Children's Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, free lunches were provided to 233 youth 18 and under that came to Fort Caroline National Memorial. The Urban Fellow's team designed flyers and did extensive community outreach to raise awareness of this opportunity. The Fort Caroline staff also reached out to all scheduled field trips and offered them the free lunch. This program ran from July 5 through August 12, 2016.
Norman House
Norman Studios - Our Story is Your Story
Lift Every Voice – Learning about Jacksonville’s Black History
The Urban Agenda team in Jacksonville built curriculum with the City of Jacksonville and the Boselli Foundation for afterschool and summer camp programs to target the need of increased literacy of youth in Jacksonville. This program was piloted in 2017 summer camps with the Boselli Foundation, whom works with at-risk youth in Jacksonville. After it was tested and adjusted, the program was distributed more broadly for use by afterschool programs as well as the dozens of other programs run by non-government organizations. The curriculum is focused on learning about the Black History in Jacksonville in fun and engaging ways.
NPS Anniversary - IMAX Presentation

As a way to promote Jacksonville-area parks, the staff from Cumberland Island National Seashore, Castillo De San Marcos National Monument, Fort Caroline National Memorial, Fort Matanzas National Monument and the Timucuan Preserve presented to movie-goers prior to two special showings of the National Parks Adventures film during our Anniversary week on August 27th, 2016. The event was held at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine and had over 250 people in attendance. Park staff tabled in the lobby after the movies to interact with guests and provide them with more ways to engage with the National Parks around Jacksonville.

Jax camp
Progressive Camping
Progressive Camping introduced youth and their families to camping and outdoor activities through three gradual programs that focused on teaching skills such as setting up camp, meal preparation and exploration - skills that youth and their families can then implement on their own.

Campers started the program at the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) where they learned about science and how to set up camp. The second camp out took place at Fort Caroline National Memorial where REI taught participants how to cook before going on a night hike. The final stage of the program took place at Little Talbot Island State Park where campers pitched their own tents, made their own food, and learned what recreational opportunities are available to them at parks. This program was piloted with the Boy Scout's Scoutreach program that seeks engagement with inner city youth.
Florida, Jacksonville
Dare to Explore/Atrévete a Explorar
Dare to Explore/Atrévete a Explorar was a program designed to connect the Hispanic/Latino community in Jacksonville with their city, state and federal parks. The Urban Agenda team raised awareness of the event by tabling at San Jose Catholic Church during their Sunday Spanish mass, as well as connecting with community leaders by attending the Mayor's Hispanic American Advisory Board to introduce the event. The event took place at Fort George Island on September 10th, 2016. At this event over 350 visitors participated in kayaking, guided tours, geocaching, Junior Ranger programming and a fishing clinic.
Saltwater Fishing Camps and Clinics
Through a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), the NPS in Jacksonville hosted a week-long saltwater fishing clinic at a nearby Hanna Park (City) during Spring Break 2017. The fishing camp offered youth from The Foundation Academy an opportunity to engage with the outdoors through learning how to fish while connecting with other youth….and perhaps most importantly a spring break opportunity—something that they would not have otherwise had. The FWCC grant provided all the fishing equipment and curriculum for the camp.
New canoemobile image
Explore Jacksonville: Canoemobile
As part of the 2016 Active Trails Program grant through the National Park Foundation, the NPS partnered with Wilderness Inquiry and Groundwork Jacksonville to have a Canoemobile Program in the Timucuan Preserve. The first day of this event was focused on a partner paddle for the Let’s Move Outside Coalition in Jacksonville. On Veteran’s Day this free experience was opened to all Military personnel as well as City and State employees. Saturday November 12, 2016 was an open-community paddle event that was focused on engaging city residents and providing educational opportunities. In total 135 people paddled in the preserve as a result of Canoemobile! Check out the video HERE.
Biodiversity festival
Explore Jacksonville: Biodiversity Festival
This Festival had the goal of engaging the Urban Core of Jacksonville community “in their own backyard" by providing activities related to environmental or physical health. This festival included archery, casting clinic, scavenger hunts, a junior ranger program, and a bioblitz as well as a bounce house and food trucks to name a few of the activities. Over 20 partner organizations provided interactive opportunities for the 400+ visitors to Henry J. Klutho park that day, which is a city park in downtown Jacksonville. Check out the video HERE.

Last updated: September 14, 2017