WASHINGTON - As we enter the final days of the year, the National Park Foundation (NPF) is reflecting on how it supported national parks throughout 2021. Thanks to a growing community of park champions, including donors, foundations, corporate partners, National Park Service (NPS) staff, philanthropic organizations (often called Friends Groups), volunteers, visitors, and more, we achieved a lot together for national parks.
This summary of some of NPF's 2021 highlights will inspire people to connect with and support national parks in 2022:
NPF helped care for the magnificent species and ecosystems that reside within national parks.
For example, with the help of NPF, Redwood National and State Parks is restoring land adjacent to Prairie Creek, which has become overrun by invasive species such as reed canary grass. A multi-year project in partnership with Save the Redwoods League and the Arbor Day Foundation will plant native species along the site's floodplains, including Sitka spruce, coast redwood, bigleaf maple, branching willow, red alder, and black cottonwood. The restoration of native vegetation will enhance tributaries that sustain species like salmon and rainbow trout.
At Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, NPF continued to support a project which helps replenish populations of Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the site's creeks and lakes. Funding from NPF will also help the park to manage its elk population, monitor its amphibians and plants, and determine the health of various ecosystems.
Preserved History and Culture
NPF helped preserve and restore sites that commemorate pivotal moments in our nation's history.
For example, NPF continued its support of the restoration of the homes where Dr. King was born and where he and Coretta Scott King raised their family and launched the civil rights movement. NPF funding is helping to preserve the integrity of the buildings and the artifacts inside as part of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park. The project helps ensure that future visitors will get a first-hand glimpse of the lives and legacies of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King. These efforts were made possible by NPF's African American Experience Fund, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2021 and helps connect all people to the role of African Americans in U.S. history through national parks.
Connected Students to the Power of Parks as Classrooms
NPF's signature Open OutDoors for Kids field trip program continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of students and teachers. In 2021, NPF provided funding to help educators adapt to new distance learning expectations, so students can access parks as classrooms, whether it be an in-person, virtual, or hybrid visit.
These grants support the specific needs of each park site and its educational partners, with a special focus on students' social and emotional learning development. This year's hybrid programs included Cumberland Island National Seashore's virtual nature exploration summer camp and Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve's Salt Marsh Superheroes program, which utilizes videos, discussion, virtual field trips, student research and observation to teach about the "superheroes" of NPS.
NPF's support of NPS' Junior Ranger Angler program inspires kids to catch their first fish at the nearly 200 parks that allow recreational fishing. As part of the program, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site led a day camp that taught participants about modern day fishing techniques, as well as the traditional fishing methods of the Hidatsa people, who lived in earth lodge villages on this land for nearly 500 years.
Invested in the Next Generation of Park Stewards
NPF continued to provide financial support to service corps programs at national parks across the country. Service corps projects ranged from invasive species removal to historical preservation to trail restoration. These service corps programs also provide on-the-job training for members and inspire belonging, enabling people to build camaraderie, gain new skills, and learn about public lands careers.
For example, NPF funded an all-women's fire corps pilot program at Grand Teton and Yosemite National Parks in Wyoming and California, respectively. The crews focused on fuels management (e.g., planned prescribed burns and other treatments that change or reduce wildland fuels and therefore decrease the risk of severe wildland fire to local communities and helps maintain healthy park ecosystems) and fire response. This pilot program is helping NPS increase diversity within the ranks of its wildland fire workforce.
NPF's Latino Heritage Fund, which celebrated its 10th anniversary throughout 2021, collaborated with the NPS, Mission Heritage Partners, and American YouthWorks' Texas Conservation Corps on the Cultural Landscape Apprentice Program at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. This program matches local Hispanic and Latino young adults with opportunities to learn about cultural landscape management alongside NPS employees.
Enhanced the Visitor Experience
NPF worked to ensure NPS was equipped to welcome increasing numbers of visitors and provide people of all abilities with a memorable experience.
For example, NPF continued to provide support for major upgrades to the lower level of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, including the installation of accessible, state-of-the-art exhibits that incorporate both tactile and audio elements. These updates help ensure that all visitors can learn about Thomas Jefferson's multifaceted story.
NPF, the Friends of the Smokies, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated the completion of a new trail that provides access for visitors of all ability levels to one of Cades Cove's most popular historic homesites, the John Oliver Cabin. The half-mile, paved trail is approximately eight feet wide to provide adequate space for wheelchairs or other mobility devices to pass one another. NPF and the Friends of the Smokies provided the funding for the project.
Established Strong Partnerships
NPF continued investing in philanthropic park partners, also known as Friends Groups, which raise funds, implement volunteer programs, develop connections with nearby communities, and more. These partners consist of organizations of all sizes, and include partners to sites that preserve battlefields, rivers and trails, and heritage areas.
For example, NPF's Strong Parks, Strong Communities initiative helped build the capacity of 36 such groups to serve their NPS partners. NPF provided over $670,000 in grants to help these groups undertake projects like redesigning their websites, developing new education or volunteer programs, enhancing accessibility at their partner parks, and so much more.