Land Conservation in National Parks

Low clouds hang over a crystal blue, still lake. In the foreground, autumnal colored leaves cover rolling hills
Lake Clark - Photo by Fred Hirschmann
The National Park Foundation provides critical funding to protect land in national parks

National parks represent a mosaic of some of our nation's most treasured lands and cultural and historic resources. From the shorelines of Acadia in Maine to the acequias at San Antonio Missions in Texas, and the majesty of Denali in Alaska, parks preserve magnificent and meaningful places and stories for current and future generations. Within the boundaries of the more than 420 sites in the National Park System, however, more than two million acres remain privately-owned.

Private philanthropy is playing an increasingly vital role in protecting these lands within national parks. By providing the National Park Service (NPS) additional and necessary time to secure adequate funding to acquire these lands, private philanthropy can leverage federal funding to ensure the conservation mission of the National Park Service remains intact. Since its inception in 1967, the National Park Foundation has maintained a robust tradition of partnering with the National Park Service on land conservation projects, working together to conserve over 135,000 acres of private land to date.

Key Initiatives

  • Identifying and implementing new land conservation opportunities available as a result of the enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act 
  • Utilizing private philanthropic dollars to leverage federal funding 
  • Preserving nationally significant sites to tell a broader American story 
  • Working to increase recreational access for all  
  • Utilizing conservation as a means of combating climate change 

Program Highlights

  • Berg Bay in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve – The Conservation Fund, NPF, Hoonah Indian Association, and NPS completed the addition of a 150-acre cultural site to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in southeast Alaska. The property, which sits at the head of Berg Bay, is a sacred site for the Huna Tlingit and will be managed in collaboration with the Hoonah Indian Association, a federally recognized tribal government through a unique conservation easement. The land will provide opportunities for tribal members to engage in traditional cultural practices and will support public access to fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities. 
  • Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park – NPF partnered with Grand Teton National Park Foundation and the NPS to protect 640 acres of critical wildlife habitat, migration routes, and viewsheds in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. NPF and Grand Teton National Park Foundation raised $23 million in private funds which were matched by $23 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The proceeds of the $46 million sale benefits Wyoming public school children. 
  • Camp Nelson National Monument – In October of 2018, NPS designated Camp Nelson National Monument as the 418th park within the National Park System. Camp Nelson National Monument served as a major emancipation site and refugee camp during the Civil War. Thanks to a $76,000 grant from the NPF and the dedication of the American Battlefield Trust, this important site was preserved and engages people with stories of courage and determination while inviting visitors to reflect on the meaning and pursuit of freedom during the Civil War and beyond. 
  • Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at Harriet Tubman National Historical Park – In January 2017, NPF granted $40,000 to NPS to enable the acquisition of this historic church in Auburn, NY. Funding for the project allowed the National Park Service to create a new park unit honoring Harriet Tubman, as well as the role of faith in her fight for freedom. The historic park will remain preserved to act as a living memory of the legacy of Harriet Tubman.
  • Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg National Battlefield – A real property donation of a 3.7-acre lot adjacent to the Poplar Grove Cemetery in Petersburg National Battlefield, VA was gifted by NPF to the National Park Service in 2018. The property and its surroundings were part of the August 1864 Battle of Weldon Railroad during the Civil War and later served as the camp for the 50th New York Engineers during a portion of the 1864-65 Siege of Petersburg. After the war, it was used as a camp for the Freedmen’s Bureau. Today, the national cemetery at nearby Poplar Grove is the resting place for more than 6,000 American soldiers. The property provides access and parking so that visitors may easily visit and honor the fallen.
  • Firepit Knoll in Zion National Park, UT – In partnership with the Trust for Public Land, NPF funded the permanent protection of a 35-acre property within the boundary of Zion National Park. Zion is one of the nation’s most popular national parks and is threatened by incompatible development on private land inside the park. The conservation of this property secured important public access, protects critical wildlife habitat, and maintains iconic scenic vistas. Protection of the property ensures that visitors to Zion National Park will have uninterrupted views of the stunning Zion Wilderness from the trails and surrounding areas. 

Types of Support

Aerial view of Berg Bay in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

Berg Bay in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo

The NPF Land Conservation program depends upon the support of donors to meet NPS' needs. Philanthropic dollars enable several types of grants to protect land.

Catalyst Grants

These grants allow NPS and partners to be nimble in acquiring vulnerable lands from incompatible development. These grants, ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, support pre-acquisition costs such as appraisals, title work, environmental site assessments, and property surveys. These grants enable NPF's conservation partners – including land trusts and friends groups – to fast-track portions of the acquisition process.  

Signature Projects 

Philanthropic contributions of over $50,000 are leveraged with federal, state, and nonprofit dollars to fund the purchase price of private land from willing sellers. Purchase grants are especially helpful for "edgeholdings," or properties that sit on the edge of national parks and are not yet within the authority of NPS to acquire.  

Revolving Fund  

NPF is standing up a revolving fund of $1 million+ to enable nonprofit partners to buy properties and convey them to NPS. Proceeds from the sale of these properties revolve back to NPF for future priority acquisitions.


Gifts of property such as land, buildings, and other real property can be donated for conservation value or for resale value. As a qualified nonprofit, NPF can receive the gift and support a tax deduction for the donor. NPF then either donates the land to NPS or sells the property to generate revenue to support NPS. 


How You Can Help
The NPF lands program depends on private philanthropy to accomplish vital land conservation projects. If you are interested in donating to the lands program, applying for a grant, or donating real estate to NPF, please contact [email protected]