Mission & History

The official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service

As the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation generates private support and builds strategic partnerships to protect and enhance America’s national parks for present and future generations.

Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation is rooted in a legacy that began more than a century ago, when private citizens from all walks of life took action to establish and protect our national parks. Today, the National Park Foundation carries on that tradition as the only national charitable nonprofit whose mission is to directly support the National Park Service.

Our National Parks History

The preservation of our most magnificent and meaningful places for the purpose of public appreciation and recreation is a uniquely American idea. The Yosemite Grant was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. And with it, for the first time, the federal government set aside parkland for preservation and public use. This protected landscape includes iconic American features such as Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome Rock, and some of the oldest trees on Earth, the giant Sequoias.

In 1872, Yellowstone National Park, was established to be “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” 

Protecting the hallowed ground in Yosemite Valley set the precedent for the creation of all of the national parks. And in 1890, largely due to community activism and lobbying, the Yosemite Valley came under official federal protection as Yosemite National Park.

Historic map of Yellowstone National Park, dated 1904.

By 1916, the Department Interior was managing a large portfolio of protected landscapes across the country—but had no official or unified leadership. Action from journalists, businesspeople, and nature conservationists led to the establishment of the National Park Service by Congress.

NPS's mission is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

Our Foundation History

The story of the parks is the story of us — a commitment to protect the places we cherish. The action of ordinary citizens inspired the next step in the protection and enhancement of our national parks: The National Park Foundation.

Through lobbying efforts of visionaries like First Lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson and philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller, the official charter to establish the National Park Foundation was passed by Congress in 1967. As one of the first advocates for the National Park Foundation, Lady Bird Johnson’s commitment to beautifying our country lives on in the actions of conservationists nationwide who work to protect our parks.

Lady Bird Johnson, an early advocate for the National Park Foundation, in her beloved Texas Hill Country.


Private citizens previously did not have a clear way to directly support our parks, be it through financial contributions or land donation—making expansion and further protection of our national parks a challenge for the National Park Service to take on alone.

The creation of the National Park Foundation led to the immediate protection and enhancement of some of our most iconic and historic places. For example, within the first 10 years, we established grants to protect President Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Sagamore, Long Island; made emergency land purchases to save Gettysburg, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Muir Woods; supported a grant in the Rocky Mountain Range; and established a fund to enhance the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove along the Potomac River.

Our Work Today

As the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, we directly impact what matters most: our treasured national parks.

We focus on promoting programs and projects that protect precious landscapes and wilderness, historical sites, and places of cultural significance.

We work to keep trails clear through our Service Corps programs, partner with collaborators like the White House to get kids outdoors through Open OutDoors for Kids, and most importantly, raise and allocate critical funds to keep our national parks safe. And with the ongoing support of fellow park lovers, we’ll continue for years to come.

Our programs help kids connect with the outdoors, shown here at Glen Canyon. 

We were founded on, and continue to embody, our core values that reflect an unwavering commitment and connection to our national parks.


Inspiring all people to connect with and protect America’s national parks.


As the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation generates private support and builds strategic partnerships to protect and enhance America’s national parks for present and future generations.

Guiding Principles

  • Stewardship: We foster a culture of stewardship of our national parks and the investments we make in them.
  • Strategic: We work with the National Park Service to identify, fund, and advance priority initiatives.
  • Impact: We invest in critical projects that provide lasting, measurable benefits to national parks.
  • Common Ground: We represent common ground where all those who love the national parks can support a shared agenda.
  • Partnership: We convene strategic partnerships to amplify our efforts and achieve broader impacts within our national parks.
  • Innovation: We employ an entrepreneurial approach to address the complex challenges facing our national parks.
  • Diversity: We encourage inclusion and diversity of people, beliefs, and viewpoints among National Park Foundation staff, board, and partners.
  • Future Orientation: We help the National Park Service to anticipate future challenges and create long-term solutions.
NPF Through the Years
Step through the years of NPF history – thanks to generations of park lovers, we're proud to take a look back on our first 50 years and set the stage for the future.