A New Promise

Park service receives nearly $50 million in federal funds and private donations for innovative centennial projects.

By Scott Kirkwood

Until now, the Centennial Initiative was just an idea. A promising idea, but an idea nonetheless.

That all started to change last fall, when Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) used his muscle as Chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to ensure that the Park Service received nearly $25 million for dozens of centennial projects that will improve the visitor experience at national parks all over the country. NPCA was a strong proponent for the move, which kick starts the federal investment in national parks in time for their 100th anniversary in 2016. In April, officials from the Department of Interior unveiled the initial list of approved projects, which uses federal funding to double the impact of nearly $25 million in private donations.

Projects range from a $4,000 program that will reintroduce trumpeter swans to the Buffalo National River to a $9 million landscaping project that will link one of Washington, D.C.’s most popular hiking and biking trails to the National Mall. Other programs will restore disturbed lands in Everglades National Park and ancient redwood forests in Redwood National Park; improve interpretive trails at San Antonio Missions, Valley Forge, and Point Reyes National Seashore; and expand efforts to record biodiversity in several national parks, engaging citizens, and especially young people, in the process.

In fact, youth education is a primary focus of the many of the first-round projects.

“Park rangers at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Oregon will adopt the Class of 2016 and bring the students to the park for special programs and events until they graduate from high school,” Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne noted at the official announcement. “It’s a great way to engage young people and share with them the legacy and heritage of national parks.

Rangers at Lewis & Clark are already working with local educators to develop a curriculum for fourth graders as they grow older, so that students who follow in their wake will have a structured educational opportunity awaiting them.

“Traditionally kids have come here, learned about Lewis and Clark, dressed up in buckskin, and made candles, but we can do so much more here,” says David Szymanski, the park’s superintendent. “We have two of the biggest wetland restoration projects along the Lewis & Clark River, a forest-restoration plan, and ongoing archaeology research, all in the park. These programs provide a great way to show kids how the world works.”

The Yosemite National Institute, which operates in Olympic, Golden Gate, and its namesake, received $750,000 to fund scholarships for 10,000 students in underserved urban areas, turning the parks into classrooms in ways that textbooks and chalkboards just can’t compete with.

“This announcement really catalyzed our donors,” says Jason Morris, one of the institute’s vice presidents. “It’s one thing if you can donate $20,000 and affect 200 kids, but when it suddenly it turns into $40,000, your donation is affecting twice as many children.”

“It’s exciting to see this proposal become a reality, but it has to be more than a one-year program,” says Tom Kiernan, NPCA’s president. “We’re now looking for Congress to pass the bipartisan National Park Centennial Fund Act, and authorize the full 10-year program to complete important projects across the park system in time for the 2016 centennial.” The Park Service has already lined up nearly $200 million dollars’ worth of funding from other philanthropic organizations just waiting for the federal government’s long-term commitment. Call 202.224.3121 to urge your Congressional representatives to support passage of the National Park Centennial Fund Act (S. 2817 and H.R. 3094). To learn more about centennial projects, visit www.nps.gov/2016.

- Scott Kirkwood 

This article appears in the Summer 2008 issue.

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