BOONE—Dr. Mark Spond is one of those people lucky enough to find their dream job. He has been named Appalachian State University’s liaison to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the second person to hold that position.
“This is one of the first positions that I have seen advertised anywhere that really captures a lot of the things that I want to do for a career,” said Spond, who has been a research assistant professor in Appalachian’s Department of Geography and Planning for the past year.
The National Park Service, of which the Parkway is a part, is an agency Spond holds dear to his heart.
“Growing up as a child, many of our family vacations incorporated visits to national parks, and I was a big history buff as a kid with interests in the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and Native American cultures,” he said. “This is the job I have always dreamed about, with an academic element, time in the classroom, time for personal and collaborative research, and a focus on this particular National Park Service unit and the national parks as a whole.”
Appalachian established the liaison to the Blue Ridge Parkway position in 2006 to promote opportunities that mutually benefit university students, faculty/staff, and alumni as well as the parkway and National Park Service. Those opportunities include research and public service projects that help the parkway’s management team during a time of continued funding cuts, and provide service-learning opportunities for students.
Dr. Neva Specht, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of history, was the university’s first liaison with the parkway. “The National Park Service is rich with natural and cultural resources, and with his background in environmental history, conservation and cultural geography, Mark was the ideal candidate for this position,” Specht said.
During her tenure as liaison, Specht worked with the Office of Student Development and Outdoor Programs to develop the university’s Blue Ridge Parkway Corps. The student organization provides long-term volunteers to the park service who help preserve the environment and protect threatened species on parkway property through educational outreach and rehabilitation and restoration work to improve parkway trails.
“That was something completely new to the park service,” Specht said. “They had never really thought about such a program and weren’t really sure they wanted to do it, but it has been very helpful to them and I think it’s been a really good program for our students on campus.”
The position also expanded internship opportunities with the National Park Service. “We have really become the ‘go to’ university for the park service when they have projects in the Highland District,” she added.
Specht said a key component of Spond’s position will be continuing the office’s emphasis on providing quality student internships, an activity of personal interest to Spond.
An internship at Arches National Park in Utah while an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock gave Spond the confidence to major in something he really enjoyed, he said. After his experience, Spond switched majors from accounting to history, with an emphasis in public history. He later interned at the National Park Service’s Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas.
He went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee.
“All of these things that have been a life-long interest tie into this position,” Spond said. “The parkway is certainly much more than just a road. It’s an historical story, an ecological story. It spans decades of modern history, but the landscape spans thousands of years of human and natural history.
“This job will allow me to help place some of our best students in internship positions at the Blue Ridge Parkway and throughout the National Park Service system,” he said. “Our student base at Appalachian is a great resource for the park service.”