University of Vermont

Mickey Fearn Seeks Ways to Re-Purpose Land and Bring Nature to the City

Board of Advisors member profile

Rubenstein School Advisory Board Member Mickey Fearn at Yosemite National Park
Rubenstein School Advisory Board Member Mickey Fearn at Yosemite National Park

“I believe that every job you have is preparing you for the ultimate contribution you make to the universe,” states Mickey Fearn, former deputy director of the National Park Service and a member of the Rubenstein School’s Advisory Board.

Mickey has logged more than 46 years of local, state, and national public service developing and leading programs in environmental justice and conservation, youth development, civic engagement, conflict resolution, and many other areas. He now sees an “opportunity of emergence” from these years and experiences as he prepares to commit his time and talents to help diversify and unify the conservation movement.

As in the past, Mickey is following his passion of bringing together people and organizations caring about racial equity, conservation, and ecosystem stewardship.  He wants to work with groups and individuals who are ready to view nature in a different way and to consider re-purposing land within cities to create a “natural place” of relevance, inclusion, and unification.

Mickey imagines the possible outcomes of shifting traditional approaches.  “What if we started changing the message that you need to leave a city to find nature?” he asks.  He explains that cities are often racially diverse and offer an ideal setting to advance ways to make nature accessible to people of color.  “A sustainable approach is to bring nature to the city instead of telling city dwellers to leave and find nature elsewhere.  I want to work with others to help cities re-purpose land and design restorative natural areas.  It is a new and different way to view the amenities of a city,” Mickey shares.

Mickey served as deputy director of the National Park Service for the past three and a half years. During his tenure, he led development of the Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion and the Collaboration of Innovative Leadership programs.  Effective February 22, Mickey will leave the National Park Service to dedicate all of his time to this effort – to involve public agencies and organizations and communities of color to unify and diversify the parks, recreation and  conservation movement to create safe and healthy neighborhoods and communities.

He will use a process known as “Third Space Conversations” designed by the Institute for Creative Development to engage others in this process and change.  His first conversation will be in Portland, Oregon.  The goal is to bring people together in a neutral setting with an absence of power differences. Participants will be asked to bring their knowledge, expertise, and life experiences, but not their constituency, to the conversation.  The hope is to find common ground to consider a neighborhood an ecosystem and community engagement a worthy endeavor regardless of age, economic status, cultural differences, or other factors. “Our public learning and enrichment institutions and their non-profit partners have huge roles to play in this effort,” observes Mickey.

Mickey was the RSENR Commencement speaker in 2011 and inspired the audience of UVM staff, faculty, and students and their families with his passion, enthusiasm, and stories.  He received a standing ovation after sharing his commitment to youths, his vision of connecting underserved populations to the natural world, his desire for racial equity, and his thirst for knowledge.  Two years later, Mickey reflects that the positive experience at the RSENR Commencement informed his decision to leave the National Park Service and take his message to a broader audience.

“Mickey Fearn has provided the National Park Service with a vision for the future, how to work beyond our traditional boundaries and truly deeply engage communities.  His continued challenge to be creative, innovative, and never stop learning has pushed us as his colleagues to dare greatly.  As an adviser to the Rubenstein School, he is a voice for empowering students to rise to the challenges of their generation with new ways of problem solving and thoughtful leadership,” reflects Rebecca Stanfield McCown (MS-NR ’06; PhD-NR ‘11), community engagement and partnerships coordinator for the National Park Service’s Conservation Study Institute.

As he transitions from the National Park Service to this new direction, Mickey explains, “My 45 year career in parks and recreation has been a gift.  I am eager to “gift” all that I have learned and experienced during this interesting and fulfilling journey back to my chosen profession. I hope to dedicate my work by using conservation as the centerpiece for community building to help create the next generation of environmental stewards, improve community economics, break cycles of racism and poverty, address environmental justice and chronic health issues while providing healthy spaces for community gathering, respite, reflection, and regeneration.

Mickey has served on the Rubenstein School’s Advisory Board since 2011.  He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in recreation and park administration at California State University and his Master of Science degree in recreation and leisure studies from the University of Oregon.  He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife of 25 years, Tanya.  They have a 26-year-old daughter, Allison, and a 22-year-old son, Nicholas.

Mickey has a written life plan and it includes preparing his children for the world and preparing the world for his children.