Ensuring Resilience & Sustainability in Our Parks

Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
A woman in a volunteer uniform holds a long pole and reaches out past the boardwalk with it for trash
Volunteer helps clean up Yellowstone National Park - NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

The preservation of our national parks is central to the mission of the National Park Service (NPS), and with over 400 national parks across the country, it’s quite the undertaking! Within our national parks, NPS manages the largest number of constructed assets of any civilian agency in the federal government – just think of all the structures, maintained landscapes, trails, and utilities you encounter when visiting a park. To ensure these places are protected and preserved for generations to come, it’s critical that our parks implement practices to improve sustainability and reduce the parks’ environmental impact.

Together with our partners, the National Park Foundation (NPF) is applying innovation and expertise to make park infrastructure more environmentally friendly and sustainable while enhancing stewardship. From growing renewable energy sources to reducing the number of single-use plastics within a park, small projects can make a big impact in integrating sustainability practices into aspects of park operations. Our work is making these places more resilient and sustainable for the benefit of both parks and the people who love them.

Waste Reduction in Parks

A recycling bin full of green single use propane canisters outside of visitor center backed by mountain peaks

Propane recycling outside the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at Lassen Volcanic National Park

NPS Photo / Amanda Sweeney

NPS manages over 80 million pounds of waste annually, with plastics and food waste creating significant opportunities to reduce what is sent to landfills and limit associated greenhouse gas emissions. This can pollute our nation’s most pristine wilderness and wildlife, so it’s crucial that parks take action to limit waste generation to preserve park landscapes and structures. NPF’s support of waste reduction in parks helps parks develop, implement, and maintain recycling and composting programs, as well as public facing visitor education to ensure we all do our part in making our parks greener. 

A woman fills a blue water bottle from a spigot under a sign reading "Water Filling Station" mounted on a rock wall

Water filling station at Yellowstone National Park

NPS Photo / Jim Peaco

Through an innovative partnership with Subaru of America, NPF is part of a collective effort that is helping reduce the amount of waste that parks send to landfills. as part of the multi-year Don't Feed the Landfills Initiative, three national parks Denali National Park & Preserve, Grand Teton National Park, and Yosemite National Park  received expertise and financial support in implementing new recyling and composting infrastructure, as well as marketing and labeling efforts to decrease contamination in recycling bins. Since its launch in 2015 there has been a 32% reduction in waste sent to landfills from the parks, keeping 16 million pounds of waste out of landfills and recycling another 17 million pounds! As a continuation of these efforts, NPF also partnered with Yosemite Conservancy in 2021 to expand recycling and education in Yosemite National Park. NPF and our partner Subaru will support a new staff position at Yosemite Conservancy to support the launch of the park's residential food waste program and fuel canister recycling and education program.

Our partnership with Tupperware has also funded the installation of water bottle refill stations in six parks across the country, from Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve to Nevada’s Great Basin National Park to Washington, D.C.’s Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

In 2021, NPF partnered with Big Bend Conservancy to help support Big Bend National Park’s installation of recycling stations and educational wayside exhibits at spots with high visitor traffic. The project will also implement a new composting program to reduce materials currently directed to the landfill, as well as analyze the park’s current waste diversion program to see where the park can continue to improve. NPF also partnered with Yosemite Conservancy in 2021 to expand recycling and education in Yosemite National Park.

Energy Smart Parks

Grids of solar panels mounted on poles, with large building featuring panel-covered roof in background

Solar panels outside a visitor center at Grand Canyon National Park

NPS Photo / Michael Quinn

NPS operates and maintains everything from historic structures to visitor centers – totaling more than 26,000 buildings across the more than 400 national parks. Heating, cooling, and lighting these places requires a considerable amount of energy, and NPF supports renewable and alternative energy projects in national parks across the country.

In 2019, a partnership between NPF and Musco Lighting supported the installation of LED lights to distribute light evenly and uniformly around the Washington Monument. The project made the monument more visible at night while simultaneously reducing the park’s energy consumption and minimizing light pollution in the nation’s capital.

Two visitors look at a white and red shuttle bus parked at a bus stop in front of towering red cliffs under a clear blue sky

Shuttle bus at Zion National Park

NPS Photo

In 2021, NPF supported the installation of solar panels on a ranger station at Joshua Tree National Park, allowing the station to be operable for the first time in over a decade, and enabling a backcountry ranger to be stationed there to support with search and rescue missions. NPF is also supporting Zion National Park's transition to a zero emission, all-electric bus fleet.

At Grand Canyon National Park, NPF and our partner Tupperware are supporting the installation of solar panels on a waste transfer station, that will help keep the heat over the 50-degree F threshold necessary to run the compost program, which will divert as much as 1,000 tons of waste from the landfill a year. Projects like this help curtail the negative environmental impact potential of operating our parks and protect our parks’ resources for current and future generations.

These projects and programs are just the beginning and build on NPF’s decades-long work in resilience and sustainability done in partnership with NPS. Through innovative and collaborative work, we’re helping parks think long-term and plan for a greener future, supporting NPS’ goals to reduce energy, water, and waste in our parks. Donate to the National Park Foundation today to help support programs and projects such as these – together we have a powerful impact on our parks.

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The National Park Foundation is driven by the generous financial support of our supporters and members. Working together, we have a powerful impact on our treasured national parks.

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