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Spotlight On: Tracy Coppola

In this week's Member Spotlight we're excited to learn more about Tracy Coppola, the Colorado Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.


How long have you been a Next 100 Colorado Member?

About a year and a half. I was involved with the Next 100 national coalition when I used to live in DC and sought out the coalition right away when I got to Colorado! How does your job help make Colorado’s outdoor spaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive?

The national parks are, ideally, one of our country’s best storytellers and have the power to bring people together. NPCA is a national parks advocate group, and we actively work on policy reform and public engagement in a way that brings parks to people while also urging reform within the park system so that it is more representative of us all. Certainly there is a lot of work and reconciliation to be done. For starters, there are many ways I try to make positive connections. For example, this might mean organizing an unforgettable day in a national park with an expert ranger; a day of testifying at a public hearing; meeting with our state and federal decisionmakers; or simply listening to someone’s experience in their own backyard.

In my role with NPCA, I am committed to finding ways to make the story of our national parks more complete, and toward interrogating and re-interrogating the narrative of our country, including how it is represented and by whom. One of examples of this ongoing work in Colorado is the Amache campaign, which is very much a Japanese American stakeholder-led effort, to hopefully designate this former WWII prison in Granada, Colorado, as an official part of the National Park Service so that the story is not only preserved and protected for future generations but also so that it remains alive and very much relevant to today’s experience. I believe the National Park Service has the distinct power to make this happen in the thorough and respectful way that Amache, Coloradans and everyone living in America deserves. Where possible, I’d like to do many more campaigns like this one. We all benefit from a greater investment in our cultural resources and collective history.

Another example is our relationship with the Sand Creek Massacre National Historical site and finding ways to work with the site’s tribal liaison so that our members know that story so critical to our history. Our more “famous” parks that are more well known for their natural resources, like Rocky Mountain National Park, have a very significant tribal history about which we are working to engage and educate our members. I also work with our team to protect landscapes in and around parks from the threat of air pollution and dominant energy extraction—key issues that Coloradans face every day. Critical to all this work is the voice of the public so often shut-out from policy decisions directly impacting human health and welfare, especially bipoc, rural communities, and economically vulnerable communities. How has Next 100 Colorado changed the way you approach your work?

I am continually learning and growing in my work and Next 100 Colorado inspires me on this journey. Working in coalition is not only uplifting and critical to my work out here, but it also challenges me to think and rethink my approach toward being a true ally and accomplice. Also, while a lot of my work is federally-specific, I also appreciate opportunities to engage on the regional and state-based work, where often the most productive things are accomplished. Next 100 CO is a becoming a big part of that focus. What is your favorite outdoor spot in Colorado? I keep returning to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve as one of the most precious places on the planet, but truly it’s impossible to have one favorite. The Gunnison area is unbelievable, and anywhere in the alpine zones is magical.

What is your favorite outdoor activity? Hiking in wilderness areas, especially deeply forested areas with healthy pine trees. Who inspired your career in conservation/the outdoors?

Very early on, my mother’s side of the family in Puerto Rico. Mainly the older generation of Puerto Ricans like my grandparents and great-grandparents who lived in tiny mountain towns like Aibonito (where my mom was born) and Barranquitas. They would never have called their actions “conservation” but they depended upon and knew land like no one else I had ever known. This is a difficult, complicated story that I don’t pretend to fully understand because I have lived a very different experience, but it is connected to me. Parts of my family experienced a lot of struggle and trauma, and it was not always a harmonious relationship with the land—some were sharecroppers, some were fortunate to own land, and some (like my grandfather) had to leave the family and migrate to the states to work on farms. But very early on I learned, in bits and pieces as much as my mom could share, about the family’s deeply rooted relationship with the land outdoors, and it always stuck with me.

Later on, my inspirations morphed into a series of fortunate events when I lived in Chicago and was making the connection between animal welfare and the environment, reading the works of animal welfare leaders like Stephen Wise and Gary Francione—their books were unforgettable, jaw-dropping reads that made me late to work or distractedly miss key trades from the trading floor I was supposed to be monitoring while working at a large hedge fund (during one of my Lost Years)! Also, having the great fortune to travel to places like Admiralty Island National Monument in Alaska and study grizzly bears in their natural habitat pushed me over the edge—I was hooked and wanted to do my part to try to protect these special, natural places as much as possible. So I guess you can say the Puerto Ricans, the grizzly bears, and being a bad hedge fund employee ultimately brought me to where I am today—a sentence that I think maybe no one has said before.

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©2020 by Next 100 Colorado. Photos provided by James Mills, Janelle Paciencia, Hispanic Access Foundation, and Continental Divide Trail Coalition.