As President and CEO of the National Park Foundation, I count myself among the lucky few who truly love the jobs they do. Each day, I experience a new adventure in our work to protect, preserve and enrich our nation's greatest treasures - our national parks. Some days are especially unique, however, and I count today among those. Today, the National Park Foundation celebrates its 45th birthday.
On December 18th, 1967, the United States Congress made a bold move. It created an organization to ensure the enduring legacy of private support for America's treasured places would continue and thrive, forever. In doing so, it created a steadfast partner for the National Park Service that would be there through thick and thin to provide assistance and support directly to America's national parks and their many programs.
Many may not realize that America's national park system was the first in the world. It was created more than a century ago through the determination of dedicated citizens intent on protecting and preserving our nation's sacred places - places they knew would be important for generations to come. They were visionaries who committed their lives to seeing this dream come true. The National Park Foundation was born of that spirit, and has proudly carried on that legacy through the years.
The Foundation has accomplished much in nearly half a century. Through the years, it has addressed the unique and fundamental needs of our national parks including acquiring new park lands, recovering valuable artifacts, pioneering programs that create the next generation of scientists and scholars, building and advancing local park charities, and restoring America's iconic symbols.
In more recent years, that work continues as the National Park Foundation has raised more than $30M to build the Flight 93 National Memorial; restored and improved 250 miles of waterways and trails, connecting parks to communities and promoting healthy lifestyles through the Active Trails program; introduced more than 30,000 students to national parks this year through its Ticket to Ride program; worked with teachers in all 50 states to embrace national parks as classrooms and centers for active learning; honored our country's diverse history and culture through its American Latino Heritage Fund and the African American Experience Fund, which provide vital support to national park sites from César E. Chávez National Monument to Little Rock Central High School.
Through our work, and the work of many local park charities and friends groups across the country, the national parks receive critical, private support that helps to keep them preserved, vibrant and available to all. But this work would not happen if not for the dedicated individuals who began this mission over a century ago, and still exist today, determined to make sure these places, and all they possess, remain protected forever.
Birthdays give us reason to celebrate and to reflect. More than anything, however, they give us a reason to look forward, to contemplate and plan for the years ahead. From the Grand Canyon to Gettysburg, Yellowstone to Yosemite, the national parks have special meaning to all of us. As we celebrate today, we know our national parks face new and frightening challenges in the years ahead, from a changing climate to daunting budget cuts.
Together, the National Park Foundation stands with all Americans to meet the challenges our parks face today, for the next 45 years and beyond. We do this so that our children, and their children, can experience what it is like to stand on the rocky shores of Acadia, witness the towering heights of our Rocky Mountains, and understand the history and pride that comes from seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
It has been said that our national parks exist as America's best idea. But I believe they are more than that. Thanks to the steadfast commitment of partners and citizens working to protect and support these treasured places, our national parks do not exist as just America's best idea - they represent America at its best.
We invite you to get involved in this vibrant, passionate community of support for our national parks. Learn more today at www.nationalparks.org and join us in celebrating 45 years of support for America's national parks.