I often say that supporting national parks is a team sport.
And rarely a day passes that I am not impressed by the National Park Foundation team, and how NPF and its partners are transforming national parks and national park philanthropy in ways that only a decade ago might have seemed unimaginable. Now – like never before in its history – the Foundation brings partners, expertise, resources, and innovation to the table to do more for America’s national parks than otherwise would be possible.
And we are not done yet.
The Foundation’s success is no accident. Vision, energy, and relentless optimism – plus plenty of smart, hard work – together – has gotten us to where we are today, poised to make the greatest impact on our parks in this organization’s history.
In addition to raising substantially more funding for parks in recent years, there are two keys to our success – our alignment with the National Park Service and the strength of the park partner community – all leading to a growing movement of support for national parks. I also give a lot of credit for NPF’s emergence to two great leaders and mentors, former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, and former Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis. They both saw the untapped potential of the National Park Foundation and understood how NPF could become a force for our parks. A dozen years ago they pushed for the Foundation to up its game, and Ken Salazar put in place a formidable Board that initiated the transformation of NPF to the prominent leader it is today.
The Foundation’s success in the years that followed has been fueled by the commitment to working closely and collaboratively with every administration without regard to political party, and to be aligned with the priorities of the National Park Service.
Our work is more essential than ever. We are instrumental in preserving and restoring places like Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, and expanding and modernizing the visitor experience. The Foundation has helped to establish new parks at Katahdin Wood and Waters National Monument, Pullman National Historical Park, and most recently, Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument.
We are inspiring the next generation of national park stewards, connecting more than 2-million elementary school students to national park experiences through Open OutDoors for Kids, and we are expanding the number and diversity of Service Corps, including helping to stand up the Indian Youth Service Corps. Conserving land and wildlife at places like Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park, Ackerson Meadows in Yosemite National Park and so many other parks is meaningful work, and I am honored that NPF has played such an important role to protect them.
The tremendous work we do together is especially meaningful to me and consequential to the National Park System and the more than 300 million visitors to these great places every year. My personal and professional lives are inseparable from my park experiences. From road trips to Mesa Verde and Cape Cod as a kid in the back of my family’s station wagon to teaching my own kids how to body surf at Point Reyes National Seashore to spending a week most summers on a wilderness canoe trip in Voyageurs National Park.
From partnering with Bernice King to protect MLK’s Birth and Family homes, to celebrating the holidays at President’s Park – and everything in-between – parks have given me so much, and I’ve been honored to be able to give something back to these places that belong to us all.
It is with that deep belief in our national parks and great optimism in their future that I share with you that I will be moving on from my role as President and CEO and taking on a new role with the National Park Foundation.
First and foremost, I’m not leaving yet as I have a lot more to accomplish. I will remain in my current role for another year – through January of 2025 – to ensure a seamless and successful transition. After that, the Board has asked that I lead the work to stand up our important goals of helping the National Park Service meet the future challenges it faces, including those related to climate change, housing, technology, transportation, and other emerging issues.
I want to assure you that for the next year, I will remain just as active and dedicated as your CEO as I have been for the last 8-and-a-half years. I will continue to focus on accomplishing our ambitious goals – especially those that I am well-suited to lead, including principal gift fundraising, working with the Board, recruiting new Board members, working with leadership of NPS and the Department of the Interior, and being NPF’s primary spokesperson.
My goal is to make this year our best yet.
Once a new CEO is chosen, I will work closely with them, the Board, NPS, donors, and other key stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition. You might be wondering why I am choosing to leave now, especially as NPF has been on such a positive trajectory.
First, I am ready for a change. Being CEO of NPF requires a 24/7 approach which precludes me from pursuing some other projects and goals I want to accomplish in life and other ways for me to contribute to the world. In addition to my new role for NPF, I plan to continue to teach at U.C. Santa Barbara where I have taught a graduate level course for the past three years. I would also like to be able to continue to serve on nonprofit Boards, as well as to advise and mentor other conservation organizations and their up-and-coming leaders.
Second, I really believe that it is important for there to be change in the leadership of organizations like NPF. Change brings new energy, ideas, knowledge, and experience – all of which can help NPF reach new heights. From the very start of this nearly ten-year journey together, I had a vision of what private philanthropy and a movement emboldened by a strong network of partners could do to protect and enhance national parks. Those of you who were here in 2015 will remember just how far the Foundation has come. Bottom line, we have just gotten better at everything we do from fundraising to marketing and communications, to corporate partnerships, to finance, administration, IT and HR, to programs and partnerships – everything, in every way.
To the NPF staff who have contributed enormously to the success of the National Park Foundation and to ensuring national parks are forever and for everyone, thank you.