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Public Lands Transportation Fellows Explore Federal Opportunities, Meet, and Present at TRB 2024

The Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program is a collaboration between WTI, the National Park Service, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, that provides outstanding graduate students with transportation-related fellowships and long-term job opportunities in federal land management agencies. WTI is particularly proud of this program, its participants, and their creativity and problem-solving acumen.

One fellow “Trains” for Cross-country Trip

One of the many PLTF perks is the opportunity to attend the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting held every January in Washington D.C. One of this year’s western-based Fellows chose an unconventional travel mode in today’s hurried world – by rail. Having ridden the European train system extensively, Mike Tormey decided to travel from Denver to D.C. entirely using Amtrak’s passenger service. “I’ve always wanted to try out Amtrak’s US Rail Pass, and going to TRB seemed like the perfect opportunity… plus, I liked feeling like trying something ridiculous. When I told people what I was doing, they looked at me like I had three heads. That was kind of fun!”

Mike’s journey to D.C. began with a stop in Dallas for the winter holidays, then detoured for sightseeing in New Orleans (at 10 P.M. on New Years Eve), Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. He even spent a couple of days in Chicago, waiting out the polar vortex that shut down rail service in early January.

By the numbers, Mike’s Amtrak experience took 136 hours to travel 6,500 miles through 22 states. Reflecting on the trip, he noted, “It would have been faster and easier to fly, but to have an incredibly human, dignified, grounded, and pleasant experience, you can’t beat train travel.” He even fell in love with the notorious Amtrak cheeseburger, known for being both soggy and delicious. “It totally lives up to its reputation.”

Fellows Get to Know Each Other, Participate in TRB Poster Session

All roads led to Washington, D.C. for the 2024 TRB Annual Meeting – it was the perfect opportunity to bring the PLTF 2023-2025 cohort together for their multi-day group orientation. Fellows attended in-person presentations at the Department of the Interior (DOI) building, as well as a mural tour, and joined guest speakers from the National Park Service (NPS), the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Federal Lands Highway (FLH).

Cynthia Marinez, Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System at USFWS, and Mike Caldwell, Associate Director of Park Planning, Facilities, and Lands at NPS joined the fellows, their mentors, and other staff for ice breaker activities, which revealed many connections of which the fellows were unaware. Mike and Cynthia described their career paths (both leading to and in federal service), shared lessons learned and valuable advice from their time in federal service, and fielded questions about their current jobs, careers, and how to create a federal resume and apply for a position.

Orientation wrapped up with a trip to the top of the Washington Monument, a chance to explore the transportation exhibit at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum, and a group dinner with fellows and mentors. The NPS gave presentations which were also attended by students from the University of Utah and Cal Poly, San Louis Obispo and the fellows were able to share their experiences with these students.

Once at TRB, fellows attended the sessions and the committee meeting of AEP20: Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands and six fellows (two of whom are in the advanced program) presented posters:

Unearthing the Badlands: Beginning to Understand Erosion and Its Risks to Transportation Infrastructure in a Changing Climate – Ashley Kuhn, NPS Midwest Region Climate Fellow (Ashley was unable to attend 2024 TRB, but her poster was on display).

Know Before You Go: Understanding National Park Service Visitors’ Trip Planning Expectations and Needs – Tristan Jilson, NPS Intermountain Region Visitor Use Fellow

Two Case Studies in Data-Driven Decision Making for Public Lands Transportation Safety Planning – Mike Tormey, NPS WASO Transportation Safety Fellow

Infrastructure Resilience to Climate Change on Public Lands of the Western United States – Hart Rorick, USFWS Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex Fellow

Old Trains Bring New Value to Cleveland and a National Park: A Case Study on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad – Charlie Gould, NPS WASO Emerging Technology Advanced Fellow

North Cascades National Park Long-Term Access and Resilience Strategy: Planning for Sustainable Access to the Alpine – Pat McMahon, NPS WASO Asset Management and Climate Change Advanced Fellow

When not in required sessions, fellows attended events that related to their current jobs or explored topics that interested them.