National Park Service planner Dr. Kerri Cahill recognized by Clemson Institute for Parks for conservation leadership

November 17, 2020

Kerri Cahill, Ph.D., Branch Chief of the National Park Service’s Denver Service Center Planning Division, was recently honored with the Walter T. Cox Award by the Clemson University Institute for Parks in recognition of her sustained leadership and achievement in public service that preserves our natural and cultural heritage.

2020 Walter T. Cox Award recipient Kerri Cahill, Ph.D. posing in front of a canyon.

2020 Walter T. Cox Award recipient Kerri Cahill, Ph.D.

The Institute for Parks presents the annual awards program, which is named for George B. Hartzog Jr., the seventh director of the National Park Service (NPS), to showcase leading figures in the field of conservation. Specific awards were named after visionary leaders that Hartzog respected and admired. Award recipients are following in Hartzog’s footsteps by making significant contributions to the management of parks and preservation of our natural, historical and cultural heritage.

The Walter T. Cox Award recognizes park administrators that exemplify Dr. Cox’s distinguished career in education and public service, which included his tenure as President of Clemson University and as the Director of the Santee-Cooper Authority.

Jeff Hallo, Interim Chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at Clemson University, said when presenting the award that Cahill’s contributions span across regions, national programs, other agencies and with international partners. She has also applied a scientific lens to her agency’s planning work.

“In her role as branch chief, Dr. Cahill has built a truly amazing technical team in the field of visitor use management and socioeconomics,” Hallo said. “This is one of her greatest accomplishments and has truly impacted our field for the positive.”

Hallo adds that having a centralized team at the Denver Service Center ensures that technical expertise and leadership is available to parks and other land management agencies looking to understand and respond to needs and opportunities related to visitor use.

Cahill began her career in public service with a county environmental management department in Florida, and then went on to work for Florida State Parks, Office of Park Planning. During this time, she was inspired by planning as a forum for conversation to welcome a wide range of voices, along with integrating science and policy. Her work at the National Park Service began in 2003 after completing her Ph.D. at Virginia Tech in Forestry, specializing in recreation management. She has worked on a diverse array of projects in support of parks, including helping build the Interagency Visitor Use Management Council in 2011. Cahill chairs the council, which coordinates across six federal agencies to provide consistent guidance and tools for visitor use management. The council has produced several guidebooks on best practices and is developing related training. This guidance has been integrated into many projects, agency policy, and is now being adapted for use in other local, state, and federal agencies in the United States and around the world.

In addition to these accomplishments, Cahill helped develop planning guidelines for the National Park Service related to the topics of visitor use management and visitor capacity and co-led an NPS working group on visitor use management that developed tools and a central portal of resources for the agency.

Cahill has also collaborated with the international community, developing and sharing best practices for managing visitor use on public lands and waters. She received other awards during her career, including the 2017 George Wright Society Social Science Achievement Award and the 2016 Legends Award from the American Recreation Coalition. Cahill is forever grateful for these amazing career experiences and continues to be passionate about her work and collaborating with her talented colleagues in the National Park Service.


Watch Jeff Hallo, Ph.D., present the award to Kerri Cahill, Ph.D. and Cahill’s acceptance speech.

The Clemson University Institute for Parks (CUIP) provides research, education, training, and outreach that enhances the management of the world’s parks and protected areas. It accomplishes this by providing park and protected area managers with innovative research to support science-based decision-making; and by developing current and future leaders in the park movement by providing interdisciplinary and transformative education and training programs. The Institute currently consists of 35 Fellows and 10 Scholars working on park-related research.

Visit the CUIP website for more information about the George B. Hartzog, Jr. Environmental Awards program and its recipients.