Jennifer French Giarratano
Public Relations Manager
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
ATLANTA—LaTresse Snead (M.P.A., ‘01) recalls memories of her life-changing week exploring California’s Eldorado National Forest the summer after sixth grade. She says her time there sparked her love of nature, which has shaped her career and inspires her work every day.
She remembers learning about biodiversity through the Sly Park Conservation and Environmental Education Center on the edge of Eldorado National Forest, about an hour from her hometown of Sacramento. Just a few steps onto the center’s wooded campus, and she was surrounded by the dazzling variety of shapes and colors of the forest. She left feeling inspired to discover more of the natural world.
“I was so moved by the experience that my parents planned a short family vacation to Yosemite National Park that summer,” she said. “There I was in awe of the natural beauty and the opportunity to explore the expansive outdoors and learn about the history of the land.”
Decades later, Snead is chief program officer at the National Park Foundation (NPF), a nonprofit organization that works in association with the National Park Service and a network of community partners to preserve and protect national parkland, historic sites and wildlife in over 400 national parks around the country. She also serves on the board of Georgia Audubon.
Snead joined the NPF after working in organizations such as the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Club of America, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and The Nature Conservancy.
At NPF, she oversees the organization’s programmatic strategy for protecting the natural beauty of the parklands as she experienced them at Yosemite. Yet her work extends beyond environmental protection; the NPF also helps preserve sites and artifacts with a shared cultural heritage, offering evidence of a connected past.
“The parks can be pillars of strength for all people,” Snead said. “They remind us of where our country has been, and they inspire where we go next. For example, Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s home in Washington, D.C., commemorates his impact founding the Black history movement. And Maggie L. Walker’s papers provide insights into her entrepreneurial spirit and legacy.”
Walker was the first African American woman to charter and run a bank in the United States,
Snead’s work expands community engagement with parks and helps strengthen the extensive network of nonprofit partners through nonprofit capacity-building efforts that support parks around the country. It’s a good tie-in with her MPA studies, in which she focused on nonprofit organizational management.
“The NPF is committed to strengthening the more than 450 nonprofit partners doing important work for parks and people,” she said. “Through our Strong Parks, Strong Communities capacity-building grant program, we help partners preserve and increase access to parks for all people.”
Increasing access includes efforts to represent all park visitors.
“We help to ensure that parks are sharing relevant and more expansive stories so that everybody can see themselves in these places,” she said. “This work is very important, especially as we think about whose voices have not traditionally been heard or have been excluded or sometimes just under-engaged.”
Snead’s team expands the stories shared in parks, widening the lens with more perspectives, including Black, Latino and women’s histories.
“I am constantly thinking about how our actions and programs support justice, equity, diversity and inclusion,” she said. “I want to help create a more equitable outdoor community where everyone feels safe, where everyone feels included, where people feel like they belong and where all people have access.”
Snead’s enthusiasm for her work is fueled, in part, by her personal connection with the parks.
“It is very important to me to help preserve parks and increase engagement with these places that have provided so much to me and my family. To this day, my experiences at Sly Park and Yosemite inspire my commitment to our work at the National Park Foundation. I want to help more kids experience the awe and wonder I did as a sixth grader in those parks.”
Story by Sumar Deen