Another Year of Impact in Our Parks

The National Park Foundation's Year in Review
Emily KaminNPF Blog
In the distance, a family stops along a trail, surrounded by tall redwood trees
Redwood National & State Parks / NPS Photo - John Chao

The National Park System preserves some of our country’s most spectacular natural wonders and tells some of the nation’s most important stories. As the official charitable partner of the National Park Service (NPS), the National Park Foundation (NPF) has the privilege of helping to protect these sites for future generations. Thanks to the generosity of NPF’s park champions, including donors, corporate partners, National Park Service staff, Friends Groups, and the community of park lovers, we achieved some impressive feats this year. We hope that this look back at our work in 2021 will inspire you to discover your own park adventure.

Protected Wildlife & Natural Resources

Two elk walk through grasslands as the sun's first light touches frosty dunes.

Elk in the grasslands of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo / Patrick Myers

In 2021, we helped care for the magnificent species and ecosystems that reside within our national parks.

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. At the end of four years, a total of 2,430 seedlings will be planted. The restoration of native vegetation will enhance tributaries that sustain species like salmon and rainbow trout.

We’re also continuing to support a project at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve which helps replenish populations of Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the site’s creeks and lakes. Additionally, funding from NPF will help the park to manage its elk population, monitor its amphibians and plants, and determine the health of various ecosystems.

Preserved History & Culture

A bench sits on a covered porch

Porch at the Birth Home at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

NPF Photo / Katie Bricker Photography

NPF helps preserve and restore sites that commemorate pivotal moments in our nation’s history. 

In 2018, NPF facilitated the purchase of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth and family homes and their transfer to Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. In 2021, NPF continued its support of the restoration of the homes by underwriting the cost of staff, materials, and administrative expenses for projects that will preserve the integrity of the building and the artifacts inside. The project helps ensure future visitors get a first-hand glimpse of the beginnings of Dr. King’s life. These efforts were made possible by NPF’s African American Experience Fund, which helps protect national park sites that honor African American history and culture.

Introduced Students to Our Nation's Greatest Outdoor Classrooms

A person holds up a plant to the camera. Drawn over the image is the word "wonder"

A still from an Observation Skills video from Great Smoky Mountains National Park

NPS Photo / Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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.

marsh with two people standing in the distance

Collecting data in the salt marshes of Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve

NPS Photo

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

A group of service corps members, each in a hard hat and face mask

California Conservation Corps at Cabrillo National Monument

NPS Photo

NPF continues to provide financial support to service corps programs, which bring teams of young adults to national parks across the country to accomplish critical maintenance and natural resource projects, all while learning technical skills and bonding with their peers. 

A service corps crew poses for a photograph

Northwest Youth Corps Rainbow Crew at Mount Rainier National Park

NPF Photo / Northwest Youth Corps

NPF, with support from REI Co-op, is doing its part to help NPS increase diversity within the ranks of its wildland fire workforce by providing the necessary funding to pilot new women’s fire corps crews. 

In the summer of 2021, Yosemite National Park and Grand Teton National Park each hosted a six-person all-women fire corps crew. Some crew members arrived with previous fire experience and qualifications, while others were brand new to fire management.  

These women worked within the ranks of the NPS wildland fire program at their respective parks for 10 weeks, helping with active fuels management projects and wildland fire response. The crews conducted prescribed burns and other treatments which decrease the risk of severe wildland fire, making local communities safer, while maintaining health ecosystems within the park. In Grand Teton, they treated nearly 100 acres, assisting in fuel reductions near historic properties and along park boundaries. The women were mentored by NPS leadership, including Superintendents, Division Chiefs and Fire Leadership as well as helicopter crews, wildland fire modules, fuels crews, and engine crews. NPF had the opportunity to speak to some of these women about their experiences, and how their time with the Fire Corps Crews has impacted their career journeys.

Enhanced the Visitor Experience

Steps lead up to the Jefferson Memorial, visitors walk by them.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

NPS Photo / Terry Adams

As park visitation continues to increase, NPF is working to ensure NPS is equipped to welcome a greater number of visitors and to provide people of all abilities with a memorable experience. 

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is one of the National Mall’s most iconic sites, attracting visitors from around the world who come to explore the history commemorated by the monument and to take in the scenic views of the tidal basin. NPF is continuing to provide support for major upgrades to the lower level of the Memorial, which will involve 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 abilities to one of Cades Cove's most popular historic homesites: the John Oliver Cabin. This half-mile, paved trail is approximately eight feet wide, which will provide adequate space for wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Established Strong Partnerships

Hikers make their way past a signpost reading "Ice Age National Scenic Trail"

Hikers along the Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Luke Kloberdanz

NPS units work closely with their philanthropic partners, also known as Friends Groups, to raise funds, implement volunteer programs, develop connections with nearby communities, and more. In 2021, NPF’s Strong Parks, Strong Communities initiative built the capacity of 36 such groups to serve their NPS partners. We 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. The grantees consist of organizations of all sizes, including partners of sites that preserve battlefields, rivers and trails, and heritage areas. A full list of Strong Parks, Strong Communities grantees can be found here.

The National Park Foundation works to protect national parks for future generations and connects people to the wonder of parks. Our work depends on the generous support of donors and our community of park champions. Learn more about our work and how we support to the National Park System.

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