The 2017 George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites

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Update, March 14: Further reductions in NPS attendance mandated

(Posted March 14, 2017) • A second round of reductions in NPS attendance has come down from the Department of the Interior.  These additional reductions will be reflected in the conference program.  To date, only about 10 of the original 108 scheduled Concurrent Sessions have been canceled outright, with about 25 individual presentations also canceled.  However, these numbers are almost certain to go higher as NPS sorts its attendance out.  Nonetheless, we still have a vigorous and varied program to offer, and expect overall attendance to be 250–350 people.

To see the latest version of the schedule, go to

Breaking news: Significant reductions to the conference program coming

(Posted February 13, 2017) • As many of you know, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) has a conference approval process in place that applies to DOI employees who want to attend a particular conference.  It requires DOI agencies wishing to send significant numbers of employees to a meeting to prepare a proposal to DOI that includes budget figures and a list of the employees who have been agency-approved to attend.  DOI then reviews the proposal and makes a decision on whether to approve or deny it, or change it in some way.

We learned today that the National Park Service (NPS), an agency within the DOI, has decided to cut by at least 50% the number of personnel it had planned to send to GWS2017.  This decision was made in response to a general directive from DOI to limit such requests because of continuing uncertainty over what the final FY17 federal budget will be once the current Continuing Resolution expires in late April. 

This means that  the current configuration of the GWS2017 Daily Schedule and Poster/Exhibit Session lineup will need to be signicantly reduced and, in the case of Concurrent Sessions, restructured.

Beyond this, as noted above the DOI still needs to review the slimmed-down request that NPS is now preparing.  It is possible that further reductions of NPS attendance are possible — and even, in the most extreme case, a complete denial of the NPS attendance request.  We do not have a timetable for DOI to make this decision.  As soon as we know more, we will let everyone know.

No matter what happens, we expect to have a robust and valuable conference experience to offer in Norfolk. Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding as we work through this process.

IMPORTANT: If you are an NPS employee who had been directed to cancel his/her attendance, please use this form to notify us.


Connections are the very heart of place-based conservation. Parks, protected areas, and cultural sites are embedded in a world of interrelated ecological and cultural networks, and success in conservation depends on an awareness of connections across many dimensions. Indeed, promoting that awareness is the heart of the George Wright Society’s mission. Nothing can be protected in isolation.

GWS2017 will emphasize this fundamental truth by encouraging presentations and discussions that explore the challenges of making connections …

… Across people: How do we create an environment in which everyone has a stake in place-based conservation and is working and growing together?

… Across place: How do we join the deeply felt particular places and stories that inspire each of us individually with those of others so as to gain an understanding of how they all are connected at different levels across various systems?

… Across time: How do we build a conservation practice which seeks to learn from the past, be aware of the present situation, and identify the possibilities for a thoughtful way forward?

We’ll come together for a stimulating week of advancing thought and practice, thinking and action, in service of the special places we care about. At GWS2017 you’ll connect with breakthrough research, the latest management practices, and—most important of all—the core values that motivate us as members of the international parks community. You’ll come away refreshed and ready to go! Make plans now to join us in Norfolk next April.


There’s a place for you at GWS2017.

Every two years, the George Wright Society organizes a premier interdisciplinary professional meeting on parks, protected areas, and cultural sites. By these three overlapping terms we mean a broad array of places, both “cultural” and “natural,” managed by different entities under a variety of designations:

  • parks at all levels: international, federal, Indigenous, state/provincial, regional, and city
  • historic, archaeological, and other cultural sites; cultural landscapes; protected landscapes/seascapes
  • research areas and designated wilderness; other protected natural areas; grasslands, wildlife refuges, conservation areas, and other protected public lands
  • areas and sites protected by tribal nations and/or Indigenous peoples; community-conserved areas; sacred natural sites (this year we will hold a special session on "decolonizing conservation")
  • marine protected areas; estuarine, freshwater, and other aquatic sanctuaries
  • privately protected areas; land-trust preserves
  • areas of shared governance/management

The GWS Conference also encompasses disciplines and activities that link with or otherwise support the work of parks, such as academia, GIS, and museum work.  Everyone is welcome to register and attend.

A major goal of the GWS is to encourage more diversity among stewards of parks, protected areas, and cultural sites.  This commitment is reflected in two scholarship programs we run that are aimed at encouraging minority students and non-student Indigenous people to participate in our conferences: the George Melendez Wright Student Travel Scholarship Program and the Indigenous Participant Travel Grant Program.  Click the “Scholarships” link for more information.


What's different about GWS conferences?  Our broad horizons.

The GWS is unique among professional organizations because our mission is to promote protected area stewardship by bringing together practitioners from all fields to share their expertise. The conference goes well beyond the U.S. national park system to include other federal agencies, tribes, state agencies, regional parks, NGOs, academic concerns, and park systems and organizations outside the USA, including Parks Canada and CONANP.  When it comes to parks, our area of interest knows no bounds.


Value for your time and money.

In a world where every organization operates on a tight training budget, conferences must deliver demonstrable benefits at a good price.  At GWS, we plan and carry out our conference with value foremost in mind.  Our results-oriented program emphasizes presentations that deliver take-home benefits to attendees.  Our registration and special-event fees are at the lower end of comparably sized civil-sector and professional society meetings.  Our conferences consistently receive high marks (greater than 4.2 on a scale of 1–5) from attendees on overall satisfaction.  And we try to minimize the environmental impact of the conference through green meeting practices.


GWS2017: The place to refresh — or kickstart! — your career.

The GWS Conference is your chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, make important new contacts, get up-to-date on the latest innovations in park management, stay current with research findings in your field, and connect with people who share your core values. If you are a student, GWS2017 is an outstanding opportunity to build your network and share your work with professional colleagues. Our broad range of program offerings — including thought-provoking keynotes, wide-ranging paper and panel presentations, focused business meetings, a dynamic poster session, field trips, a service project — aim at delivering useful information and new skills you can use right away.  We work hard to make the GWS biennial conferences the park profession’s best all-around learning venue.


Ready to get started?  Begin by reading the Call for Proposals.


Questions? Ask us!

We've created this website to answer your questions about the conference. But if anything isn't clear, don't hesitate to contact us — we are always glad to help. Thank you for your interest in the George Wright Society and our conference.  We look forward to seeing you in Norfolk!

Jennifer Palmer
incoming GWS Executive Director

Emily Dekker-Fiala
GWS Conference Coordinator

Dave Harmon
outgoing GWS Executive Director

Or call us at 1-906-487-9722.


Conference Co-Sponsoring and Supporting Organizations

US National Park Service • Co-Sponsor | VHB, Inc. • Supporter

GWS logoNPS logoVHB logo



GWS Board of Directors

Nathalie Gagnon, president
Jerry Mitchell, vice president
Ryan Sharp, treasurer
Armando Quintero, secretary
Zarnaaz Bashir
David Graber
David Reynolds
Chris Spence
Jennifer Thomsen
Lynn Wilson
Gina Depper, graduate student representative


GWS2017 Conference Committee

Lynn Wilson, co-chair
Dave Harmon, co-chair
Gina Depper
Shaun Eyring
David Graber
David Parsons
David Reynolds
Melia Lane-Kamahele


GWS2017 Indigenous Involvement Working Group

Peter Lariviere
Deanna Beacham
Melia Lane-Kamahele
Angela Mooney D'Arcy
Freddie Romero

Except where noted otherwise, all photos courtesy of Dorothy & Gary Davis