Happy Birthday to the National Park Foundation

December 18th is the 50th birthday of the National Park Foundation, Chartered by Congress in 1967 as the official charity of the U.S. National Park Service.

What does the National Park Foundation do?

You may not realize it, but as a government organization the National Park Service can’t do any fund-raising. That means that there is no clear way for private citizens to donate – land or money – hampering the ability for the National Park Service to expand or further protect our precious resources. To help the National Park Service overcome this limitation, Lady Bird Johnson and other conservation enthusiasts helped to get the National Park Foundation established 50 years ago. As we read about their work, we found that many of the places we have visited and enjoyed were protected by grants provided by the National Park Foundation in it’s first 10 years. In the first 10 years the foundation made “emergency” land purchases that helped save Gettysburg, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Muir Woods. It also helped protect President Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Sagamore, Long Island.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

We had the pleasure of visiting Sagamore Hill this summer and it was a little piece of heaven. We could certainly understand why the President loved the place so much. The home and grounds were lovely and it is well worth doing the house tour. Really interesting.   He was quite a character – it was fun to hear how he loved to ditch the secret service and go off on his own! He especially liked to go out and work on the farm, right alongside the hired farm workers. There are some really great photos. The house is full of photos of him and his family. We hadn’t realized it, but he was a huge family man. Once you saw the house, you could just picture him out playing with the kids on the lawn or sitting reading with them. He loved reading. He had over 6000 books. His library was amazing – stuffed full of books plus  gifts and memorabilia he had collected from his travels all over the world, and animal trophies mounted on the wall and as rugs on the floor. We all hear the serious side of the president, but Sagamore Hills gives you a glimpse into the man who was Teddy Roosevelt, affectionately called “TR”.

The National Park Foundation continues to make a difference

Last year, the foundation raised $158 Million dollars. Funds they raise help them to increase access to the parks – maintaining trails and improving facilities to keep our parks safe, and offering programs like “Every Kid in a Park” to help spread the love of national parks to the younger generation and their families. Funds also go to support the establishment of new National Park Units. We look forward to visiting these (especially Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail) but one of the new park units we have had the pleasure of visiting – Pullman National Monument.

Pullman National Monument

This is the first National Park Unit located in the city of Chicago, dedicated to preserving what was the first “company town” in the United States. Pullman made those train cars we’ve all heard about, but the really neat thing that he did was to establish a planned community surrounding his factory. As you walk around the town, you can tell which houses were for managers and which were for factory workers. We were amazed to hear that if you rented one of his houses, he retained the right to come in at any time and verify that you were living in a way that he “approved”. He tried to control every aspect of their lives, but eventually this was to backfire on him when workers went on strike. You’ll learn about that and more here. It is a very interesting place, and will be even more so once the visitor center is completed. Take the walking tour of the neighborhood and visit other organizations in the historic district. It’s a window on how industrial life once was.

What are some current programs of the National Park Foundation?

Along with establishing new parks, the National Park Foundation supports programs, many of which focus on eduction, working with students and teachers to bring more kids out to the parks and to encourage active learning. In 2016, they created the American Latino Heritage Fund and the African American Experience Fund to preserve and protect cultural diversity. These funds support over 30 National Park Sites including Little Rock Central High School. The National Park Foundation also provides funds to improve our national parks; currently supplying $67M to restore 6,600 acres of the Everglades and over $30M to build the Flight 93 National Memorial. We visited Flight 93 during the design phase and can’t wait to return to see it when it is all built out. It’s a great reminder of how courageous Americans are!