Five Questions With Katie Miller on the National Park Service and a Preservation Career

Five Questions With returns! In this series, I’m talking with colleagues, social media friends, and others I admire to learn some tricks of the trade, hear their stories, and introduce you to more preservationists. While the first three interviews have been with preservation friends I’ve made through social media, #4 is a graduate classmate of mine. I love making the world smaller and meeting friends who are doing inspiring work.

Introducing interview #4: Katie Miller!


BUNDLE UP and get outside and you can see rainbows and beautiful landscape in Anchorage, AK as demonstrated by Katie. Photo courtesy of Katie Miller. 

Katie Miller is one of the hardest working people I know, and one who is extremely dedicated to and excels at historic preservation. I thought you all might like to meet Katie and learn about her career with the National Park Service. It’s taken her to Massachusetts, New Mexico, Wyoming, and now Alaska. She has a B.A. in Cultural & Historic Preservation from Salve Regina University and M.S. in Historic Preservation from the University of Vermont. Read on for Katie’s interview and to see some beautiful photographs.

1. Katie, let’s start with the basics. What triggered your desire to work for the National Park Service? 

I grew up on Cape Cod, where I managed to find an internship working with the museum at the national seashore. Instantly, I was attracted to the agency’s mission to protect not only its historic resources, but the collective natural and historic environment for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of the public. I also loved working with a group of invested, good-hearted, passionate, hard-working people.

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O’Malley Peak, Anchorage, AK. Photo courtesy of Katie Miller. 

2. You’ve had multiple positions with the NPS? Would you tell me about them? 

After my internship at the Cape Cod National Seashore, I then drove to the opposite coast to work in the archives at Yosemite National Park in California.

In graduate school, I worked with the Cultural Landscapes Inventory Program at a NPS regional office in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After completing my coursework, the region stationed me at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

After the funding ran out for my position, I stayed with Grand Teton for as long as I could as a volunteer working on several projects, including historic furnishings reports, compliance reports, and an iPhone app. for self-guided history tours.

For two years, I worked as an architectural historian with a cultural resource management firm that received contracts from the NPS. There, I worked on National Register documentation for a few personally exciting historic sites, including Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, the Appalachian Trail (which extends from Georgia to Maine), Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, and Marsh-Billings National Historical Site in Vermont.

Now, I work directly for the NPS in the Alaska Regional Office as a historian.

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3. Tell me about your job duties with the Alaska Regional Office. 

It’s located in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, population-wise. As a historian, I write national register nominations, historic structures reports, and coordinate future cultural resource projects for national parks throughout the state. Alaska is a considerably sized area. If it were transposed over the contiguous United States (they call it the “lower 48” here), Alaska’s body would encompass most of the Mid-West and its tails would extend from Sacramento, California, to Savannah, Georgia.

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The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark near McCarthy, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Katie Miller. 

4. What was it like to pick up and move to Alaska (from Rhode Island) and how do you describe living in Alaska? 

I love working for the NPS. With full support from my family, the move was very easy. My father drove with me, all 5,000+ miles between Massachusetts and Alaska.

The state has mountains that meet the ocean; long stretches of darkness and lightness; the world’s most adorable animals — otters and puffins; inspiring Native Alaskan culture; and colorful auroras. I also get to work with some of the most wonderful people in the universe.

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On that 5,000 mile drive: Three Sisters near Canmore, Alberta. Photo courtesy of Katie Miller. 

5. What advice would you offer to new/aspiring preservationists? 

Don’t underestimate the power of an internship – it’s the perfect opportunity to identify your interests. If you’d like to work with the NPS, I encourage you to look into the Student Conservation Association and the National Council for Preservation Education Internships. Also — if you’re passionate about something, take the risk. It will be worth it.

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Flying from Juneau to Skagway in a six seater plane. Photo courtesy of Katie Miller.

Thank you, Katie. Your photographs and your travels are beautiful. We’re proud to have preservationists like you who are dedicated to the National Park Service. Enjoy Alaska!

Field School Final Exam

During the last week of field school, Travis often joked about what would or would not be on a final exam.  Exam?!  Were we really going to have an exam?  We didn’t really think we would, but lo and behold, Travis presented us with an “exam” on the last morning, which was matching clever phrases to each site that we visited.  (No, it was not collected.)  We also had course evaluations, reminiscent of the last days of college classes. If in fact we did have a real final exam and let’s say it was an essay about what I gained from field school, it might go something like this:


Often I find myself believing that I have my career path planned out exactly how I want it; I’ve finally figured out what would be the perfect job for me in terms of diversity, enjoyment, challenges, and satisfaction.  Before attending field school at Poplar Forest, I had decided to pursue architectural restoration or building conservation.  However, I am willing to admit, that I often interweave these two terms despite knowing the difference.  I thought that a project such as the Kenmore restoration or the Poplar Forest restoration would be something that I’d love to do everyday.   In these past two weeks, I have since changed my mind.


These two weeks have provided me with a base for constant preservation thinking and pondering.  I have sat awake at night thinking about the large multi-year restoration projects such as Monticello, Montpelier, and Poplar Forest.  Then I thought about the smaller projects like restoring my own home someday.  And I thought about all of the other facets I love about historic preservation and acknowledged that restoration is only one piece to the puzzle.


An extensive restoration project, while admirable and incredible, is not something I would want to undertake.  Perhaps, I am, at this point, quite daunted by the knowledge required to accomplish such a task.  Another part is that I cannot imagine doing the same job for 20 years (this could, however, be quite affected by my wanderlust personality.)   But, the biggest part is that I cannot “settle” (aka decide) to follow one path in historic preservation.  Sometimes, I think that this might hinder my potential success, but success is all subjective anyway. 


So what do I want to do with my preservation life?  I want to be the roots of a community in a non-political sense.  I love to talk, write, and teach preservation. But at the same time I want to do preservation. I want my job to involve the theories of quality of life, sense of place, and incorporating historic preservation into the community.  Perhaps this is a bit of advocacy and I’m alright with that, though you may not see me on the steps of Washington D.C.  Kerry Vautrot and I have great plans to work together and involve our ever growing network of preservation friends.  We want to be self employed consultants but do the above things. 


This remains quite a puzzle, but currently I can imagine a community preservation center in which we can serve as consultants for historic preservation projects or direct the community to those who need someone in our network.  Perhaps we’ll take on National Register nominations, Historic Structure Reports, architectural conservation investigation, and then plan community events, preservation camps for school kids, and many more things.  By developing a plan for this form of “business” we would be able to incorporate everything we love about preservation, helping anyone in the community, and bringing preservation to everyone. 


Granted, this is another plan in its very beginning stages.  I thought of this the other night, probably wired on coffee and on a preservation induced high.  Two significant field school events helped to trigger this round of ideas.  First we visited Point of Honor in Lynchburg, which is a city run house museum that hosts community events as well.  The restoration is not perfect, but I could just imagine it as a great place to visit and have events and learn about Lynchburg.  That same evening we visited another house, Rivermont House, which Travis and one of his preservation friends have saved from demolition and restored the outside (basically on their time and energy.)  Travis mentioned that it could serve as an architectural resource center.  It sounded wonderful.  Every county (give or take) should have one!


At some point I noticed the difference between nationally / worldly significant historic site restoration project vs. more locally significant projects and then of course, the differences in restoration and rehabilitation.  For me, I believe it would be more rewarding to work on a smaller scale and be able to do part of everything that goes into restoring/interpreting/running a historic site while educating the public through more than just exhibits. I realize that larger sites do this as well, but I’d like to start small and see where I go. 


Again, this is a vague plan but it is my current dream that I’d like to follow and develop as I learn and experience more in the preservation field.  And I credit the weeks at field school to this latest update.


The second aspect for which I am grateful to field school is the ability to once again talk and work with new people from different backgrounds and interests, but all who are interested in the world of preservation.  We had wonderful conversations whether about quality of life and suburbia or architecture or restoring houses.  The combination of the site visits, projects, and people has allowed me to step into preservation theory and be content to sit and think about historic preservation and what I would like to do in the years after graduate school.   And field school has reminded me what I know, but more importantly, how much I have to learn and how much I want to learn.