In 1872, America did something unprecedented by proclaiming Yellowstone the world’s first National Park - set aside unimpaired for the “betterment and enjoyment of the people.” Today there are 419 National Parks. National Parks are places of incomparable beauty, awe-inspiring landscapes, fragile eco-systems and pristine wilderness. National Parks enshrine our Nation’s struggles, advancements, principles and sacrifices; sacrifices Americans have made on behalf of those principles.
National Parks preserve history so future generations can see the past in the present and learn the stories of America in places where history actually happened. Celebrating historic achievements, conflicts and milestones, National Parks present a sustainable quilt of our American heritage.
National Parks are special places forging lifelong bonds of patriotism, responsibility and stewardship. They provide monumental lessons in history and science through non-traditional learning in living classrooms.
American conservationist and novelist Wallace Stegner wrote, “National Parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best.”
For us, National Parks are indeed “America’s Best Classroom.” To this end, we were privileged to direct Unilever’s multi-year effort titled just that, “America’s Best Classroom.” The program sent more than 35,000 kids, predominantly from Boys and Girls Clubs chapters across the United States, to National Parks. The kids, many of whom may have never had the opportunity to visit a National Park, participated in day-long Junior Ranger experiences seeing and learning first-hand the natural, cultural and historic resources embedded in the National Park system.
We were also privileged to facilitate a partnership among the Student Conservation Association (SCA), Unilever and the National Park Service. The Unilever National Parks Congressional Internship sent nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students to work for a semester on Capitol Hill and then to National Parks for the summer. On the Hill, the interns worked in Members’ offices on policy and regulatory actions related to Natural Resources and public lands. They then rotated into a practical field experience seeing first-hand how public policy impacts National Parks. Interestingly, post-graduation, many of the Unilever Congressional Interns channeled their career aspirations to public lands, public policy and conservation
How do we sustain National Parks for future generations?
We build on the individual philanthropy that began in 1907 when Mr. and Mrs. William Kent of San Francisco donated acres of majestic redwoods to the federal government; land proclaimed Muir Woods National Monument. Soon after, benevolent families, such as the Rockefellers and the Mellons, invested in visionary land conservation efforts setting in motion National Park philanthropy.
It’s critical that we all do our part. In the 1980s school children collected and contributed pennies to support the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. Each year millions of people donate their personal time as volunteers in National Parks providing in-kind manpower that alleviates the burden on park personnel and completes much-needed projects. Corporations, individuals, foundations all have a role to play; many already do.
National Parks have friends. Specifically, friends groups and dedicated foundations that work tirelessly to provide incremental funding, programming and improvements to their partner parks. Take a look to see how you, at a local level or to fulfill your passion, might support National Park’s respective friends group.