Celebrating and Supporting America’s National Parks

    September 20, 2016
    by Will Shafroth

    Editor's Note: Continuing our celebration of the National Park Service Centennial, this post comes from Will Shafroth, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation. The National Park Foundation was a key partner in launching Blue Sky's giving platform. We are honored to feature Will as a speaker at the Blue Sky Funders Forum in Grand Teton National Park on September 28th, 2016.

    The National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday on August 25, 2016 and the park community is honoring this milestone by connecting people from all walks of life to the awe-inspiring landscapes, shared history, and rich culture that make up America’s national parks.

    While the centennial celebrates the achievements of the past 100 years, it offers the perfect opportunity to plan for the future. Together, we are embarking on the second century of stewardship for America’s national parks. This is the ideal moment to invite the next generation to explore their national parks and ensure these treasures are loved and cared for into the next century. We all have a role to play in ensuring that future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy the thrilling experiences of nature and wildlife, history, and culture, and the spirit of adventure of America’s more than 400 national parks.

    However, as we ignite the desire for meaningful, lifelong connections to the national parks, we must also consider the challenges that an already underfunded National Park System faces.

    Funding America’s Best Idea
    Today, the National Park Service receives $3 billion in annual funding from a combination of visitor fees and federal appropriations. This sum barely covers the agency’s basic operating costs with little or nothing left over to perform adequate maintenance and enhancement. There is a $12 billion backlog of critical maintenance projects to repair campgrounds, trails, visitor centers, roads, bridges, and properly support fire prevention. And the parks have needs over and above these base level requirements that are necessary to meet changes in demographics and climate, share a more comprehensive representation of American history and culture, conserve private inholdings that threaten the integrity of the parks, and protect wildlife habitats and ecosystems.

    In addition to critical federal appropriations, the long-standing tradition of private philanthropy from individuals, foundations, and corporations continues to play a vital, supplementary role in the protection, preservation, and enhancement of our country’s national parks. For forty-nine years, the National Park Foundation and its many local partners around the country have raised private funds for park projects and programs to make America’s best idea even better.

    Blue Sky Shines
    We at the National Park Foundation do not do this work alone. No place is this spirit of partnership and philanthropy more evident than in Blue Sky Funders Forum’s own work to launch the giving platform, Blue Sky Shines. The National Park Foundation partnered with Blue Sky to develop the first Shines campaign by identifying and contributing projects, programs, and initiatives from across the National Park Service that were in need of funding. These projects represent the broad range of parks and park programs across the National Park Service, from large national investments like Every Kid in a Park, to small, place-based efforts connect urban communities with their local parks. As Blue Sky, the National Park Foundation, and other key partners spotlight these programs, funders are invited to search for and identify giving opportunities that fit their geographic and thematic interests. By highlighting opportunities to connect people and nature, they have built a more sustainable model of philanthropy in which foundations and donors can leverage their impact and aggregate funding to strengthen our parks together. We are extremely appreciative of our partners’ support of our national parks in the centennial year.

    The Celebration Continues
    In addition to Blue Sky Shines, there are many ways to celebrate and support these special places and their programs. From making a donation to the National Park Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks, to collecting National Park Service Centennial commemorative coins, we encourage everyone to engage at every level.

    You can continue the celebration of our national parks this month with National Public Lands Day. Service projects and stewardship events will take place in parks and public lands from coast to coast. Members and partners of Blue Sky, including individuals from the National Park Foundation, will join the National Environmental Education Foundation and the communities around Grand Teton National Park on September 25th for a day of stewardship in Grand Teton, one of our most majestic and beloved parks.

    Now that we have blown out the candles of the hundredth birthday, we must recommit to supporting our national parks in perpetuity. They belong to each of us and, in exchange for this unique birthright, we must watch over them. Visit, volunteer, give, and advocate for these treasured places because, collectively, WE are the national parks. 

    Will Shafroth oversees the National Park Foundation’s work, including its operations, philanthropic support and promotion of the NPS Centennial. He has served as former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Counselor for the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, developing and executing a 21st-century conservation and recreation agenda with emphasis on reconnecting people to the outdoors. He previously served as executive director of the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund and the Colorado Conservation Trust and chairman of the Land Trust Alliance and Resources Legacy Fund.


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