Planning for the Future of Our Parks

Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
A line of volunteers carry flats of plant starts up a trail through an alpine meadow.
Meadow Restoration project at Mount Rainier National Park - NPS Photo

The National Park Service (NPS) has been protecting our natural and cultural resources for over 100 years, and parks have only grown more and more popular with visitors. The over 400 national park sites protected by NPS spread across 85 million acres, and parks welcome more than 318 million visitors annually.

As visitation to our parks continues to increase, it’s important that parks and their partners plan for the future while continuing to protect parks for the education, enjoyment, and inspiration of all. That’s why the National Park Foundation (NPF) and our partners are harnessing the power of technology and innovation to help NPS plan for the needs of parks and park through our Parks of the Future programs and projects.

Transforming Park Facilities

Bicyclist crossing a wooden bridge over a river channel

Bicyclist on the Boundary Channel Bridge, which connects trails in Virginia with the trails in Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac

NPS Photo / Victoria Stauffenberg

In embracing the future of parks, it’s important to improve our parks and expand the ways we experience them. NPF’s work in transforming park facilities enables visitors to further enjoy, explore, and discover our national parks. From new visitor centers and interpretative displays to refurbishing and modernizing park structures, this work helps ensure that our parks fit the needs of present and future generations of visitors.

The wire sculpture of Native Americans on horses with the sunrise in the background at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Spirit Warrior Sculpture at the Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

NPS Photo

The range of this work is broad and varied. A partnership between NPF, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Badlands Natural History Association, and the Badlands National Park Conservancy will see the construction of a new visitor center at Badlands National Park to help visitors learn about the park’s many resources, including the history, culture, and heritage of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Lakota People. A similar project will improve the interpretative and educational programming in an updated visitor center at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, thanks to the support of NPF, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, NPS, and Friends of Little Bighorn Battlefield.

In the nation’s capital, support from NPF has helped transform monuments along the National Mall. In 1976, NPF funded the enhancement of Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove along the Potomac River. NPF also supported the restoration of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, including the installation of new educational outdoor exhibits and signage. Gifts from philanthropist David M. Rubenstein helped NPF support the modernization of the elevator inside the Washington Monument and are helping to create new exhibits at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial.

Strengthening park infrastructure is also a key component of advancing the visitor experience. A grant from NPF to Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego is supporting the construction of a new trail – the park’s Rocky Intertidal Zone is a favorite destination for visitors but is currently only accessible by vehicle. With the addition of this trail, students and youth groups will have additional educational opportunities to learn about the scientific, historical, and natural resources at the park.

Investing in Accessibility

A view of Devils Tower from the boulder field by the Tower Trail.

A view of Devils Tower from the boulder field by the Tower Trail at Devils Tower National Monument

NPS Photo / Avery Locklear

It’s important that everyone feels welcome and safe in our parks, and NPF’s investing in accessibility is helping make parks more accessible to people of varying abilities. Projects such as renovations of parking lots, trails, campgrounds, restrooms, and the creation of new maps and informational material ensure that people of all abilities can have enjoyable and memorable experiences in our national parks.

When planning out how to make parks more accessible to visitors, collaboration with individuals and organizations is key. Thanks to NPF, Devils Tower National Monument was able to collaborate with the National Center on Accessibility to undertake improvements at its most visited areas, especially important as visitation levels increase at the park. In 2019, NPF and our partners supported the creation of a more physically accessible three-mile section of Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, hosting “White Cane” days with over 150 students and educators from the nearby Arizona School of the Deaf and Blind to give feedback on a new exhibit along the trail.

People using wheelchairs navigate down a gravel path to a historic cabin, surrounded by trees

Trail to John Oliver Cabin in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

NPS Photo

2021 marked the opening of a new trail to one of the most popular historic homesites within Great Smoky Mountains National Park: the John Oliver Cabin. The new half-mile paved trail, supported by NPF and Friends of the Smokies, provides adequate space for wheelchairs and other mobility devices so more visitors can enjoy one of the park’s oldest and most iconic destinations. In Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, newly built ADA-compliant tent sites, supported by NPF, L.L.Bean, Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and Elliottsville Foundation, Inc., replaced a single camping site at Lunksoos Camps. The accessible tent sites were built with minimal impact to the surrounding land and trees and doubled the park's camping capacity.

These programs and projects demonstrate just the beginning of the decades-long work NPF and our partners have done to help protect our parks while continuing to enhance them for current and future generations. Through this innovative and collaborative work, we’re helping parks think long-term as they embark on a second century of work. 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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