Updates from the Public Lands Team - Fall 2016

Fall 2016 | www.volpe.dot.gov/publiclands

Updates from the

Public Lands Team

Volpe Center logo.
Kayaks and lockers used for the paddle share
The NPS kayak rental station located in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. The paddle share links to Nice Ride bike share stations, enabling visitors to use the kayaks without needing a car to shuttle between the launch and end points. (Source: Volpe)

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area Launches Paddle Share

Since 2014, the Volpe Center has been working with the National Park Service (NPS) and several local and state partners to create a first-of-its-kind kayak rental or “paddle share system” in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MISS). In August, the system launched and garnered a significant amount of media attention, five-star reviews from users on social media, and inquiries from other areas across the country that would like to create a similar system

The first installation of the system is along a 4-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in North Minneapolis, one of the city’s underserved neighborhoods. The paddle share increases access to the river for people who do not own their own equipment and eliminates the use of a car as a shuttle between where people put in and take out the kayaks. The paddle share supports MISS visitor experience goals, which are to increase access to the river while promoting active transportation.

The current system has two 8-kayak rental stations at North Mississippi Regional Park, one 8-kayak rental station at the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization 2 miles down river, and two 16-kayak return stations 2 miles farther down the river at Boom Island Park. Two 8-kayak rental stations opened in October in a separate location at Bohemian Flats in the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park. All paddle share station locations are adjacent to Nice Ride Minnesota bike share stations so that people can get to their put in location, and to wherever they want to go after they take out, without having to use their car.

To use the paddle share kayaks, people logon to www.paddleshare.org (a website Volpe designed and created for the project) and select a kayak and timeframe to paddle down the river. After completing an on-line reservation, they are emailed a code that they then enter into a locker at the paddle share station at the selected time. The locker contains a paddle, two sizes of life vests, and a mechanism to unlock the kayak. The user then takes the kayak down to the river and enjoys their paddle through an urban yet scenic stretch of the river. At the end of their journey, the user puts the kayak on a rack. As is the case with bike share systems, kayaks are repositioned between racks as necessary. 

The Volpe Center has helped NPS to bring together partners, develop an operations plan and budget, and create maps, signs, and the website to support the project. Project staff hope that the paddle share system, which may expand, will succeed in getting more people on the river in the Twin Cities and at other rivers and lakes in public lands across the country in years to come.

Project Contact: Ben Rasmussen

FWS Assesses Accessibility of Refuges across Midwest and Southeast

A typical “dashboard” view a vehicle from a RIP data collection on Merritt Island, NWR
A typical “dashboard” view from a RIP data collection on Merritt Island, NWR

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS” or the “Service”) is tasked with working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance the habitats for fish, wildlife, and plants for the continuing benefit of the American people. One of the largest landholders in the United States, FWS manages over 560 national wildlife refuges, 70 national fish hatcheries, 38 wetland management districts, and other protected areas. FWS is currently working with the Volpe Center to examine and possibly update its methodology for collecting data on the condition of its roads, trails, parking lots, and other transportation assets. The FWS uses the Road Inventory Program, or RIP, to collect data on these assets. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) manages data collection for the RIP. Together, FWS and FHWA have made some significant changes to the RIP, resulting in the need for data clean-up to prepare for on-site condition assessment.

With more than 40 million visitors to Service-managed areas each year, the FWS needs to manage its roads, trails, and other facilities efficiently to guarantee safe, reliable, and pleasant access, within the means of a finite budget. The FWS uses its Service Asset Maintenance Management System (SAMMS) and Service Application for Material Inspection (SAMI) databases to continually record and track the conditions of refuges and their facilities like buildings, roads, and trails.

Over time, these data have grown more complex, leading to inconsistencies and greater opportunities for reporting/recording errors by contractors and database managers. At the same time, FWS has increasingly integrated more of its deferred maintenance and financial systems within SAMMS, making a clean-up of the transportation data in SAMMS even more critical. Volpe staff have joined FWS refuge managers and transportation coordinators to support the RIP by performing a one-time clean-up of the data in SAMMS, region by region. At the end of the data clean-up, Volpe and FWS staff will examine how the recurring refuge assessment and review process can be improved over time.

For administrative purposes, FWS lands are organized into eight geographic regions; this year Volpe is partnering with the FWS in the Midwest and Southeast regional offices to clean-up existing RIP data and to streamline the RIP process itself. Volpe staff are joining FWS transportation coordinators for interviews with refuge managers and contractors to assess transportation assets (by physical condition, frequency of use, maintenance requirements, etc.), to enter and update data in SAMMS, and to ultimately study which aspects of the process have the most potential for improvement. Volpe and FWS transportation coordinators will also conduct interviews with refuge managers and FHWA partners to find opportunities to improve data collection and identify specific transportation needs at FWS units. By improving the data collected and making suggestions for improving the data management processes necessary for refuge access, Volpe will help FWS better improve access to and enjoyment of public lands for millions of Americans.

Project Contacts: Ben Rasmussen, Peter Tomczik, and Anders Kosnett  

NPS Air Tour Management Agreements Achieved at Big Cypress National Preserve and Biscayne National Park

A bird at the Big Cypress National Preserve
Wildlife at Big Cypress National Preserve. (Source: Volpe)

Air tours over national parks offer dramatic aerial views of water and land features that are uniquely different from ground or sea experiences. Nationwide, commercial air tour companies conduct nearly 300,000 tours over national parks annually. The tours can be noisy for visitors and wildlife below. The tours are therefore managed to protect park resources and visitor use without compromising aviation safety or the nation’s air traffic control system. 

Since 2001, the Volpe Center has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Park Service (NPS) in the development of air tour management plans (ATMP) and associated environmental compliance. The FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2012 amended air tour management law to allow the FAA, NPS, and commercial air tour operators to voluntarily enter into air tour management agreements under certain circumstances as a less time-consuming alternative to developing ATMPs. An air tour management agreement is a park-specific voluntary agreement that manages commercial air tour operations over a park to protect wildlife, natural and cultural resources, and visitor use of the park without compromising aviation safety or the air traffic control system.

Recently, the Volpe Center supported the development of air tour management agreements at Big Cypress National Preserve and Biscayne National Park. Through coordination with NPS, FAA, and park unit staff, the Volpe Center assessed the environmental effects of air tours on the parks’  resources, including wildlife, visitor use, wilderness, and culturally sensitive areas. In addition, the Volpe Center conducted noise modeling, and the results were reviewed to ensure that the park’s management objectives would continue to be met. 

As a result of the environmental review, current air tour routes were modified to further avoid impacts on sensitive resources. Specifically, the Volpe Center worked with NPS Night Skies and Natural Sounds Division, as well as park staff, FAA and the air tour operators to establish conditions for air tours over Big Cypress National Preserve and Biscayne National Park including routes, altitudes, number of flights, type of aircraft, hours of operations, and reporting requirements. The agreements also include a section that identifies management issues that must be addressed, such as tribal uses, wilderness restrictions, sensitive habitat, and private property ownership. As part of the agreement approval process, the Volpe Center supported public and stakeholder outreach activities, including a public comment period on each agreement and tribal coordination. 

Air tour management agreements for Big Cypress and Biscayne were successfully executed in 2016.  As the requirements for ATMPs has been underway for 16 years without an agreement document, this execution of agreements over two parks shows compliance with the law and that agreements can be achieved.

Project Contact: Becky Blatnica

Training Video for the Bureau of Land Management: An Overview of the Federal Lands Transportation Program and the Federal Lands Access Program

Screen shot of the training video opening credits
A screenshot of the training video on the FLTP and FLAP funding programs.

Managing over 200 million acres across the western United States, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has struggled to educate hundreds of field staff about new funding opportunities available via the Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP) and the Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP). Most field staff have little to no experience with transportation, yet they play critical roles in determining transportation needs and forging partnerships with neighboring landowners and governments.

To address this need, the Volpe Center produced a video on the FLTP and FLAP programs, focusing on how the BLM can benefit from the programs and how field staff and partners can get involved. The video uses simple language as well as photos and video footage focusing on BLM lands. In addition, the video caters to both BLM staff and their partners at local governments or neighboring land management agencies by providing tailored suggestions for how to get involved and learn more about these funding programs. The video is available at: https://youtu.be/Ztj_U8oUW9M.

Project Contact: Haley Peckett

Public Lands Team Spotlight: David Daddio

David Daddio and Logan Nash at a construction site for the Foothills Parkway (Great Smoky Mountains National Park).
David Daddio (left) and Logan Nash at a construction site for the Foothills Parkway (Great Smoky Mountains National Park).

What public lands projects are you working on now?

I manage Volpe portfolios with the National Park Service (NPS) Transportation Branch, National Capital Region, and Southeast Region. Major initiatives with these offices include linking project selection and performance management, technology implementation, alternative transportation planning and feasibility studies, congestion management, and safety. One of my big charges is to help NPS access federal aid funding and meet generational funding challenges that are outside of the agency’s normal appropriations. Through capacity building and technical support, our team has helped NPS “open the door” to federal aid programs and transportation partnerships which is creating real results, both large and small. Recent successes include supporting the funding strategy to bridge Florida’s U.S. Highway 401/Tamiami Trail and restore natural water flows to Everglades National Park, building partnerships with Tennessee DOT to complete select sections of the Foothills Parkway after 70 years of planning, and leveraging funding to rehabilitate the Arlington Memorial Bridge, a major gateway between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation’s capital.

What types of projects outside of public lands do you work on?

I have worked with the Office of the Secretary and Federal Highway Administration on pedestrian and bicycle safety, accessibility, and performance management. Most recently, we supported a DOT-wide effort to understand how federal policies promote and support automobile Level of Service measures. The way transportation professionals measure and communicate congestion and automobile delay have important implications for community livability, modal choices, and the performance of the transportation system.

What are your fondest memories of public lands?

As an undergrad, I spent two summers working with the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in the Uinta Mountains near Park City, Utah. I came across the positon through the Student Conservation Association and split my time there between coordinating volunteer service projects and making visitor contacts in the High Uintah Wilderness. Having grown up in Maryland, my conception of the outdoors and public lands was limited to local parks and places like Acadia and Shenandoah. I had never been to a designated wilderness, climbed a 13,000-foot mountain, or seen a slot canyon or the desert. I had the opportunity to visit many national parks from Yellowstone to Canyonlands and Zion during this time. This position cemented my passion for public lands and gave me a newfound appreciation for the vastness of the American landscape.

What new public land have you discovered since working at Volpe?

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma, really made an impression on me. Like many National Wildlife Refuges, Wichita Mountains combines dramatic scenery with critical wildlife conservation activities. It was really a privilege to help refuge staff plan for strategic transportation and recreation improvements while protecting this valuable resource.

What’s the most unique, interesting, or strangest job you had before working at Volpe?

After undergrad I worked for the Trust for Public Land, which is a nonprofit that assists public agencies in acquiring land for conservation and public use. This position gave me exposure to the financial, political, and regulatory challenges that federal land management agencies face in achieving their mission. It also taught me that these agencies rely on the flexibility and technical expertise of partners to overcome these challenges.

If you were to have a job that wasn’t transportation or public lands related, what would it be?

My wife tells me I should start a plant nursery or landscaping business. Since purchasing our first house last year, I have spent a lot of my free time overhauling the yard at the expense of other seemingly more critical projects inside the house.

Welcome to our newsletter!

The Public Lands Team shares Updates twice a year to highlight recent activities and news.

In this newsletter

About the Public Lands Team

Primarily organized within Volpe's Center for Policy, Planning, and Environment, our team helps federal land management agencies resolve complex transportation challenges at both the program and project levels.

Our work draws on expertise in a variety of fields, including policy and program development, multimodal systems planning, alternative fuels and vehicle selection, environmental compliance, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

You can read more about our team here.

About the Volpe Center

The Volpe Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops transportation innovations for the public good. Part of the U.S. DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Volpe partners with public and private organizations to assess the needs of the transportation community, evaluate research and development, assist in the deployment of transportation technologies, and inform decision- and policy-making.

Contact the Public Lands Team

For questions, general information, or to speak with us about getting started on a new project, please contact Eric Plosky at (617) 494 - 2785 or volpepubliclands@dot.gov.