Chad Weiser: Meeting the Challenge of Preserving Cultural and Natural Resources
With more than 300 million visitors annually, protecting and preserving the 423 national parks, monuments, and scenic lands that make up the US National Park System is no small undertaking. It is a balancing act between providing an enjoyable experience for visitors today and preserving the natural environment and cultural heritage for generations to come. This is the primary mission of the National Parks Service (NPS). It is also at the core of what Chad Weiser, PLA does every day at Otak as the firm’s Federal Practice Leader.
A professional landscape architect by trade, Chad was drawn to Otak’s interdisciplinary approach to working with clients when he joined the firm in 1999. “When I first came to Otak, I was a project manager in the Planning and Landscape Group. Over time, my role grew and eventually ventured into working on a lot of federal work,” Chad states. “I have enjoyed the evolution, but being able to work with all the disciplines at Otak has made my work that much more interesting. To be able to work with civil engineers, structural engineers, and architects and bring all of those pieces together to do great work for our clients has been very rewarding,” he adds.
His longevity at Otak has not only allowed Chad to work with all of the different disciplines, but has given him a broad knowledge base and the ability to translate structural, architectural, and civil engineering data for clients. He explains that “the key is being able to understand the important elements of all of the different disciplines and how they come together, and distilling it down for a client so they can make the decisions that will make their project successful.”
Early in his career, Chad had the opportunity to work directly for the NPS, overseeing construction on various projects and acting as a liaison between contractors and NPS design teams. His background and familiarity with the challenges faced by the NPS have been an asset as Chad and other leaders at Otak have been helping the NPS with visitor use studies and restoration projects at a number of sites. “The challenge we have on every project,” Chad explains “is to find the right balance between the visitor experience and preservation. Sometimes we’re needing to think about expanding a footprint of a developed area, but doing it in a way that will have minimal impacts, both to cultural and natural resources.”
Notable projects Chad and his team have been working on include facilities improvements and renovations at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, campground rehabilitation at Yosemite National Park, and new wildland fire facilities in North Cascades National Park. Chad cites the Yosemite campground project as a prime example of balancing the user experience with the need to preserve and protect the environment. “This was a 300-unit historic campground that was very tired and in need of a lot of updates. We provided the design for the campground renovation, which included updating the amenities at each campsite, as well relocating twenty of the campsites away from a sensitive river corridor and building a new access road to those sites,” Chad explains.
Chad is also spearheading projects in coordination with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, The US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. He sums up working with the NPS and other federal agencies as a process of finding creative solutions to challenging problems and doing it in a way that everyone feels heard and understood. “We are often working with teams from multiple departments—from cultural interpreters and rangers to operations, maintenance, and law enforcement—and they all come with a different perspective and a different area of focus. They all need to be heard and they all need to feel the solution we’re coming up with meets their needs and expectations.” He adds that “it can be challenging at times, but we’ve become very good at putting all the pieces together, balancing all the different demanding needs, finding solutions and getting them implemented.”
Looking to the future, Chad and the rest of the team are most excited about the Great American Outdoors Act. Passed in 2020, the Act provides critical funding to address the significant maintenance backlog of deteriorating facilities within the National Park Service as well as other federal land management agencies. “There’s going to be a lot of work for us to help the NPS implement projects, and it will be a lasting legacy for the next 50 to 100 years and we get to be part of it,” Chad says enthusiastically.