The nation’s parks and wildlands are in trouble. President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 budget would cut funding to the Department of Interior by 14% or $12.6 billion, with the Interior Department’s National Park Service receiving a cut of $2.7 billion. This would compound the agency’s funding crisis, leading to more layoffs and reductions in park services.
The National Park Service (NPS) is the sole federal agency charged with the maintenance and management of all federally owned lands, public parks, monuments, and memorials.
With the NPS without a permanent director (the Trump administration’s sole nomination for the job died without consideration when Congressional session adjourned last December) and the White House aggressively reducing the size of Bear Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments, the park system is both being ignored and preyed upon. Acts, such as then-acting interior secretary David Bernhardt’s decision to divert approximately $250 million from the park system’s maintenance fund to pay for custodial workers to return to work during the 2018 government shutdown, may impair future renovation and improvement projects.
When Abraham Lincoln signed into law the legislation that made the Yosemite Valley the first national park in 1864, it was with the intention that the land will be held for public use and recreation forever. With the idea that public lands are a trust enshrined to the people being a romantic notion that contrasts with the industrial mandate of the nation, the necessity to vigorously defend the national parks became part and parcel with the parks’ identity.
There are organizations and companies that have taken up this call to defend our public lands. Stacker has reviewed the companies and nonprofits that have announced financial or in-kind support of the NPS or the National Park Foundation and have compiled a list of 25 programs and organizations working to save our national parks. This list is not exhaustive or conclusive; there are hundreds of local, state, and national organizations and companies chipping in toward the fight to save our national public lands.
Our public lands are our heritage; it is the part of the national story we are leaving behind for future generations. When they are gone, a part of our shared past will disappear, too. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "There is nothing so American as our national parks…The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us."
Keep reading to learn why granola may save your favorite park.
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The granola maker Nature Valley is one of the largest corporate sponsors of the National Park System. The company has committed $3 million over the next three years, which—in part—will improve and repair the trail network.
Not to be undone, Minneapolis-based food manufacturer General Mills—the corporate parent of Nature Valley—has opted to work with the National Parks Conservation Association. For example, for National Park Week 2019, General Mills made a donation to NPCA for every social media post using the hashtag #NVFuelsParkCleanup or #YourParksYourTurn.
The first nonprofit on this list, the Nature Conservancy is the world’s largest nonprofit conservation group. Starting as the Ecological Society of America in 1915, the group brought together scientists and concerned citizens with the singular goal of saving our open lands. Located in all 50 states and in 50 countries, the group engages in land conservation, water cleanup funding, and public-private ecological management agreements.
Opting to use litigation to push for ecological protections, the National Research Defense Council is a network of over 2 million supporters and 500 lawyers, advocates, and scientists. The NRDC has used its legal muscle to push back on controversial projects such as the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline—which potentially threatens several crucial aquifers and cross protected lands—and oil and gas drilling off the Alaskan coastline.
One of the best-known conservation groups in the United States, the Sierra Club was the force that led to the creation of many of our national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park. The Sierra Club has also engaged in political advocacy, such as encouraging the creation of the National Park Service and the enlarging of federal protected tracts, such as Sequoia National Park and Grand Teton National Monument.
While most conservation groups offer a large umbrella of protection that includes the national parks, the National Parks Conservation Association is solely committed toward the advocacy of the nation’s recognized wildlands. A lobbying group with over 1.3 million members and supporters, the association—through its more than a century-long existence—seeks to educate and inform decision-makers and influence legislation toward the protection of the national parks.
For most indigenous or first people, nature is sacred. As it is believed by some that humanity was placed on the planet to live in concert with nature and not necessarily hold dominion over it, protecting the land has deep spiritual necessity. The Indigenous Environmental Network was created in 1990 to connect concerned indigenous groups and individuals toward engaging in environmental and economic justice. As many national parks abut or overlap Native American-claimed or allocated lands, the IEN’s efforts to improve the tribes’ capacity to affect change in protections for sacred sites’ land, water, air, and natural resources directly impact the viability and health of the national parks.
The Japanese auto manufacturer Subaru has been singular in its love and support of the national parks. Through its “Share the Love,” “Find Your Park,” and “Don’t Fill the Landfills” initiative, the company—since 2013—has donated nearly $20 million toward the defense of the parks and helped the national parks eliminate over 66 million pounds of waste that would otherwise head to landfills.
Toms Shoes is a for-profit shoe and apparel maker that engages in a “One for One” business model. Basically, for every retail product sold, the company pledges to deliver one pair of shoes to a child in need. While this model has been argued to be practically useless and even exploitative, it does suggest the company’s stance on social justice issues. One of the projects Toms has inspired is the Parks Project, which encourages volunteerism in the national parks. Created by former Toms staffers, the project maintains a funding and e-commerce platform, where donors can buy project swag or directly donate to support park conservation efforts.
While the Parks Project started with conservation efforts in the southwestern United States, it now has a nationwide focus. The Save the Redwoods League, however, is more narrowly focused. Seeking to protect the redwoods and giant sequoias of northern California—which are among the oldest organisms currently alive on the planet—the League, since 1918, has protected nearly 200,000 acres of redwood forests and surrounding ecosystems. The League has restored forests from logging operations, has established private parks, and has encouraged California legislation to protect the redwoods.
The Student Conservation Association (SCA) provides trail crew opportunities and internships to more than 4,000 young people age 15 and older every year in parks and forests around the U.S. The organization was founded in 1957; today, it sends more than 600 people each year to national monuments, parks, wilderness areas, military ranges and lands controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. Students work with staff at those locations to do everything from build trails and plant trees to clear invasive species and control erosion.
A Rocky Mountains state, Colorado has an ecology that is both beautiful and—through mineral extraction—the backbone of the state’s economy. Colorado Open Lands has committed itself to protecting the open lands and waters of Colorado by helping to promote conservation easements. These are agreements with private landowners to yield their lands back to nature once they are done with it and to take protections not to pollute the air, water, and land.
One can argue that it is just good business sense for REI—a leading outdoor activity equipment supplier—to publicly support the national parks. It would naturally encourage business. Despite this, as a co-op, the company takes its stewardship responsibility seriously. In 2019, REI invested $8.4 million into 431 nonprofits committed to protecting the wildlands and urban outdoor activities recreational areas. This translates to direct support through volunteerism and/or funding to over 5,000 outdoor places.
Another Japanese automaker, Nissan—via its “Calling all Titans” initiative—has offered direct support to the National Park Foundation, the American Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity. The company has committed support to service projects serving the national park system, including volunteer recruitment and direct fundraising. As the National Park Service is a federal government agency, direct donations to it would be illegal. The National Park Foundation is the National Park Service’s charitable arm—created by Congressional charter—that accepts and administers gifts to the National Park System.
True advocacy can be found in grassroots movements. It sometimes takes a group of committed citizens to drive true change. One organization driving this type of advocacy is Groundwork USA—the organization is a network of local groups that are committed to improving the ecological welfare of their communities. The organization—seeking to pursue the intersection of equity and sustainability—offers a framework for funding new projects and a support chain for getting new advocacy ideas rolling.
Since 1985, the Corps Network offers young adults and veterans the opportunity to work on public land projects. Similar to other corps programs, such as Peace Corps or Teach for America, members of the Corps Network assist in local conservation projects to help strengthen communities, promote conservation, and develop key competencies that would serve them in their lives.
As stated earlier, federal agencies and employees cannot receive tips, donations, or direct contributions. While there is no specific regulation that prohibits donations to specific federal organizations (in fact, there are mechanisms in place to allow for direct contributions, such as the donation box on the IRS tax form 1040), any donation given to the federal government can be used by the federal government as it sees fit. As this may appear unethical, since donations are usually made to serve specific purposes, government agencies usually create special accounts or foundations that have directives to receive donations and use them per the donors’ wishes.
The National Park Foundation is the National Park Service’s donation processor. In 2018, the foundation received more than $57 million in pledges and managed an investment portfolio in excess of $129 million.
The National Geographic Society is one of the largest nonprofit scientific organizations in the world. The group has interests in geography, archaeology, natural science, historical and environmental conservation, and world culture. Started originally as an elite exploration club, the organization has grown to include media ventures—including a film production company that produces documentaries like “March of the Penguins”—a museum, retail stores, and exploration and scientific research funding.
The National Recreation and Park Association is committed to the preservation of the nation’s public parks and wildlands. The group believes that recreation is an essential part of the quality of life. A funding organization, the NRPA seeks public and private partnerships to help promote research, education, and policy initiatives.
Beer brewer Budweiser is a premier member of the National Park Foundation’s “Find Your Park” initiative. Budweiser also participates in the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign, where it pledges a dollar per pledge received. Budweiser has also committed to converting all of its operations to renewable energies by 2025.
Bank and credit-card provider American Express has promoted itself to be a responsible corporate citizen for most of the company’s existence. One area that the company supports is sustainability. The company’s 2025 environmental goals include a reduction of energy use by 35%, water reduction by 10% per employee, and elimination of single-use plastics. While the company’s philanthropy can be argued to be less about altruism and more about ensuring sound shareholders relations, American Express has still encouraged volunteerism to help protect the national parks through its Serve2Gether initiative.
Coca-Cola—like most large corporations—have deeply ingrained philanthropic interests. For the Atlanta-based soft-drink manufacturer, one of these interests is improving the connection between local communities and the national parks. In 2018, more than 12 million fewer visitors visited the parks compared to 2017. It is enthusiasm that will encourage funding and protection for the park system. Coca-Cola allows users to trade-in product codes for a donation to the National Park Foundation.
The corporate parent of the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, Crown Media Family Networks has been unique among broadcasters about its support of the national parks. An example of this is the company’s exclusive agreement with the National Parks Foundation to broadcast the National Christmas Tree Lighting (the National Park Service manages all lands in the public trust, including the National Mall, the United States Capitol, and the White House).
L.L. Bean has a National Park Collection, a limited collection of T-shirts, bags, and other swag celebrating the National Park Service and its member parks. For every purchase from the National Park Collection, 20% will be donated to the National Park Foundation.
The railroad company Union Pacific has always had a special relationship with the national parks. Before the advent of the modern highway, rail was the preferred way to get to the parks—especially in the Western states. Union Pacific is the largest private donor to Open OutDoors for Kids and has committed to a $3 million partnership with the National Park Foundation through its “Find Your Park” initiative.
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