Our National Parks - The Next Chapter

Conservation & Stewardship at Yosemite National Park to celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service -- and plans for the next 100!
Helen Cherullo Helen Cherullo
April 15, 2016
Our National Parks - The Next Chapter
Yosemite NP Chief of Staff Mike Gauthier (and Mountaineers Advisory Council member) with Helen Cherullo, Publisher, Mountaineers Books

How can we ensure the iconic lands “made for you and me” continue to be the gateway for falling in love with and protecting the natural world? Can our national parks be more inviting and better reflect the rich diversity of America? Will they remain world-class destinations? Can our parks become models for sustainability?

Members of the public, nonprofit, and business communities came together at a Centennial Business Retreat at Yosemite National Park this week, taking the first steps toward supporting a bold vision for the next 100 years.

I joined Vik Sahney, Mountaineers Advisory Council member and REI Divisional Vice President of Sustainability, and other outdoor and business leaders from Subaru, Google, North Face, the National Parks Conservation Association, NatureBridge, the National Park Service (NPS), in a rich exchange of ideas. As we celebrate the first 100 years of our national parks, and the many successes of the #FindYourPark centennial campaign, our group committed to lend expertise and resources to build on this momentum. Together, we will explore ways the private sector and philanthropic organizations can partner with the NPS to realize ever greater ambitions in the next 100 years.

Throughout the conference people shared stories of family vacations, hikes with friends, first climbs, and other adventures in national parks including wild iconic destinations from Denali to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Great Smoky Mountains. People told of transformational experiences at national park cultural destinations that define our shared American history, including the Statue of Liberty and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. In the end, we  shared a collective sense of how lucky we all are to have experienced these life-shaping moments - how they formed who we are today and how crucial it is to make such opportunities more broadly known, inviting, and accessible.

The Future of the National Parks

Looking ahead, the group focused on two major opportunities to address moving forward:

  1. Supporting initiatives to make our parks  sustainable, and, sanctuaries for biodiversity in the face of climate change.
  2. Public-private partnerships that encourage visitation, stewardship, and advocacy of our national parks, especially to Americans of all races and backgrounds.

Our conversations in Yosemite were very timely, as Secretary Jewell recently outlined her Vision for Next 100 Years of Conservation in America, which includes the federal government launching an initiative for the first time to measure and quantify the outdoor industry’s impact on the U.S. economy. We also support the Centennial Bill, which seeks to create funding for the National Park Service. 

The national parks budget is a meager one-fifteenth of one percentof the total national budget. Public/private financial sponsorships such as the Find Your Park campaign are new to the NPS, and we have yet to realize the potential for funding from that source.

The bonds built and pledges made this week - during working sessions as well as copious time together outdoors among spectacular waterfalls, rivers, and magnificent mountains - reflect an awareness of what we can build by leveraging our collective passions, strengths, and resources. This is just the first step in what must be a long-term commitment in order to achieve ambitious goals.

We are playing the long game, though, and success will be evident 100 years from now if our national parks are welcoming to and enjoyed by all ethnic groups from all economic sectors, not predominantly by middle-class Caucasians. Parks must become educational launch pads for individuals and communities to learn to live in balance with nature. And ultimately, if people visit, enjoy, and fall in love with their parks—the most significant outcome will be that these new visitors become passionate park guardians for future generations. Success will be measured by whether the parks remain intact, vibrant sanctuaries for wildlife and iconic landscapes that define America.

At the end of the conference, we were all deeply honored to be named official Yosemite National Park ambassadors (#YosemiteAmbassadors), formalizing a bond to each other and to our public lands.