Preserving America’s Best Idea

Giant sequoias, towering granite slopes, and black bears draw an estimated four million visitors to Yosemite National Park each year. As the country celebrates the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, park ranger Heather Boothe MPA ’04 leads an 11,000-strong volunteer effort to give something back to America’s best idea and preserve the land for generations to come.

The master’s in public administration alumna heads the volunteer program at Yosemite, coordinating thousands of tourists each year to pick up trash, build trails, and root out invasive plants like dandelions and bull thistle.

“To be here this year, the centennial of the park service, is really exciting,” says Boothe. “I feel like I’m part of something much bigger than myself or even Yosemite.”

The 25-year veteran of the park service says studying at USF gave her insights into management best practices that she still draws on — like how to standardize volunteer procedures across the National Park Service.

“I was attracted to the university’s culture of promoting public service,” she says. “I really liked having professors who had worked or were still working in the public sector and had real-world experiences to share.”

After graduating, she was promoted to manage rangers at the Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado and then put in charge of Yosemite’s volunteer program.

Since then, she’s expanded the number of volunteers at Yosemite by nearly 40 percent, says Boothe, who led the team that literally wrote the National Park Service manual on how to grow and manage volunteer efforts. She’s also taught classes on the topic at parks across the nation.

Boothe has worked as a ranger in 10 parks, where she’s encountered everything from bears to mountain lions. But there’s something particularly special about Yosemite, she says.

“I work in a place that other people spend their whole lives dreaming of visiting, and I get to see some of the world’s most beautiful wildlife and forests every day,” she says. “It’s an incredible opportunity.”