Some National Park-Related Groups That Deserve Your Donation

While there are still two months left to 2011, it's not too early to think about making a tax-deductible contribution to your favorite national park-related organization.

Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of some of the non-profits working for national parks that deserve your support.

* Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Simply put, the non-profit conservancy exists to "preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail – ensuring that its vast natural beauty and priceless cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed today, tomorrow, and for centuries to come."

* Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

Whether it's spreading the wonders of national parks to school children, improving trails, developing an oral history on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or establishing endowment funds for specific purposes, the foundation stays busy year-round on behalf of the parkway.

* Bryce Canyon Natural History Association

This organization is centered around Bryce Canyon National Park, but its reach extends to other public lands on the surrounding Colorado Plateau. "It has an educational institution that functions as part of the interpretive arm of Bryce Canyon National Park. Donated funds are requested by the agencies to support educational, interpretive and scientific activities or projects. These can include production and printing of free publications, construction of information kiosks, or the financing of roadside displays, trail guides and maps. BCNHA's goal is enhance every visitor's understanding and appreciation of our public lands by providing a through selection of quality educational materials, both free and for sale in our outlets, and through our on-line catalog."

* Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association

Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association is a private, non-profit organization whose main objectives are to provide interpretation for the park visitor and to support the purposes and mission of the National Park Service at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the lands related to them in New Mexico and west Texas. To date, CCGMA has donated more than $3.5 million to both Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.

* Coalition of National Park Service Retirees

This non-partisan, non-profit organization is comprised of former employees of the National Park Service. Its mission is to defend the parks and programs of the National Park Service. Tapping into the collective experience and knowledge of 750 members, the coalition monitors and reacts to the ever-changing political, social, legal, and environmental conditions that can affect the Park Service areas and the responsibilities the Service exercises outside the boundaries of its 395 areas.

* Crater Lake Institute

This non-profit organization makes it easier for you to know more about Crater Lake National Park. Its mission is to enhance the public's knowledge of the park by offering information and educational activities in the park -- Did you know you can scuba dive in Crater Lake? -- to articles on the park's natural history, its dark night skies, and even what sort of science projects are under way in the park.

* Crater Lake Trust

The trust works to not just protect Crater Lake National Park and its namesake lake, but to further the education of park visitors and develop interpretive programs. It currently is raising funds to bring grade school children to the park, present a tribal program, and underwrite bus trips to bring kids to the park.

* Everglades Foundation

Though its mission goes beyond Everglades National Park to encompass the entire reach of the Everglades ecosystem, much of this foundation's work has an affect on the park. "Funds raised by the Foundation are used for scientific research, advancing understanding of the Greater Everglades ecosystem and to provide grants to our conservation partners. In addition to grants, the Foundation supports necessary legal actions to help protect the Everglades."

* Friends of Acadia

These folks provide a great service for Acadia National Park, raising money to help maintain the park's historic carriage roads, repair and maintain hiking trails, help underwrite the Island Explorer shuttle bus, and fund the Peregrine Falcon/Hawk Watch program, among other notable endeavors. Three-star rating from Charity Navigator

* Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Historical studies, lecture series, facility maintenance, publishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's newspaper, helping obtain bear-boxes for campgrounds, encouraging community involvement, and even buying the TP for restrooms fall within the bailiwick of this friends group.

* Friends of Big Bend National Park

Tasks this group has shouldered at Big Bend National Park include raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the park's paleontological exhibit, helping to underwrite a new interpretive film for Big Bend's Visitor Center, raising a quarter-million dollars for educational exhibits at the Panther Junction Visitor Center, and performing restoration work in the park.

* Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara

Though perhaps not as well-known as friends groups tied to more prominent national parks, the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara plays a vital role at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, having created an endowment that provides financial support for the preservation and educational missions of this historic site.

* Friends of Chickasaw National Recreation Area

The recently-formed Friends of Chickasaw National Recreation Area promotes public appreciation of and support for Chickasaw National Recreation Area. This support includes conducting interpretive programs, increasing public awareness regarding the park and its mission, fundraising, and other volunteer activities.

* Friends of Congaree Swamp

This friends group strives to raise public awareness and enjoyment of Congaree National Park, as well as to fund interpretive and restoration programs and projects for the park.

* Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The workload of this non-profit includes offering year-round educational adventures through the Hawai'i Volcanoes Institute, providing a volunteer workforce for designated projects at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, such as forest restoration and maintenance of the historic 'Ainahou Ranch, and administering grants and raising funds for agreed-upon park activities.

* Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes

This friends group works on trail maintenance, landscape maintenance, development of guidebooks for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore visitors, trash collection along 35 miles of beach, and work towards the 27-mile-long Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

* Friends of the Smokies

Education, preservation work, trails work, land acquisitions, they all fall under the purview of this non-profit, which in just 18 years has raised more than $30 million for work in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Two-star rating from Charity Navigator.

* Friends of Virgin Islands National Park
This friends group is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the natural and cultural
resources
of Virgin Islands National Park and promotes the responsible enjoyment
of this unique national treasure.

* Friends of Wilderness Battlefield

Among the very worthy projects this group takes on is restoration of Ellwood Manor, the 18th century plantation manor that is surrounded by the Wilderness Battlefield and which today falls within Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

* Glacier National Park Fund

This organization funds a wide range of work and projects at Glacier National Park. It has obtained and installed bear-proof storage lockers in front-country campgrounds, worked to make trails ADA accessible, funded education programs for school children, and sought donations to help fund wildlife research in the park.

* Gettysburg Foundation

Simply put, the foundation "is a private, nonprofit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service (at Gettsyburg National Military Park) to enhance the preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg.

* Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

With such a sprawling and diverse landscape within the boundaries of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the conservancy never lacks for work. It helps develop interpretive and education programs, maintains hiking trails, restores native vegetation, funds wildlife research and does habitat restoration for species protected under the Endangered Species Act. And that's just scratching the surface. Four-star rating from the Charity Navigator.

* Grand Canyon Association

Nearly 80 years old, this association started out humbly enough with a goal of supporting the educational and research efforts of Grand Canyon National Park’s Naturalist Division, to continue the publication of Grand Canyon Nature Notes, and to publish natural history bulletins with in-depth Grand Canyon–related research. These days it also sponsors lecture series, offers educational seminars, helps fund wildlife research and facility restoration work, and endeavors to maintain the legacy of art at the national park.

* Grand Canyon Trust

This group has a straightforward mission statement, one that involves the landscape sprawling around both Grand Canyon National Park and even that around Arches and Canyonlands national parks: "The mission of the Grand Canyon Trust is to protect and restore the Colorado Plateau — its spectacular landscapes, flowing rivers, clean air, diversity of plants and animals, and areas of beauty and solitude." Accomplishing that involves opposing mining that could threaten the canyon, working to protect public landscapes as far away as Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and involving tribes in the discussion of how best to resolve environmental issues. Four-star rating by Charity Navigator.

* Grand Teton National Park Foundation

In the past seven years this non-profit has given more than $25 million to Grand Teton National Park for education-based capital projects, work and learn programs that reconnect youth to nature, and wildlife research and protection. Among its projects are buying bear-proof food storage boxes for front-country campgrounds, trail restoration work, helping underwrite the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, and funding a Youth Conservation Program that provides summer jobs to high school students who learn conservation work with their own sweat. Three-star rating from the Charity Navigator.

* Lassen Park Foundation

The foundation plays a multi-faceted role in and around Lassen Volcanic National Park. It works to introduce deserving kids to national park and forest camping experiences, underwrites wildlife research and scientific studies in the park, and helps maintain trails.

* Mesa Verde Foundation

The needs of Mesa Verde National Park are many, and the foundation has worked to meet them. Among its accomplishments? Helping bring to the park a new Visitor and Research Center, a much-needed facility for the park's millions of artifacts. It now is working towards a Tribal Cultures Center that, among other things, will offer exhibits on contemporary Pueblos and tribes, display Native American artworks, and offer a Dance Plaza for ceremonies and presentations.

* National Parks Conservation Association

This national organization works on a daily basis to advocate on behalf of the national parks. Its regional offices stay abreast of issues of interest to parks within their respective regions, and its State of the Parks arm evaluates resource conditions and threats at specific units of the National Park System. Three-star rating from the Charity Navigator.

* National Park Foundation

Officially charted by Congress to raise money for the National Park System, this group operates on a national level to find partners and philanthropists interested in investing in the parks. But it also helps fund initiatives in individual parks, such as a climate-change seminar for high school students at North Cascades National Park and weekend camping trip to Everglades National Park by an Hispanic family that had never visited the park.

* National Parks of Lake Superior

One lake, five units of the National Park System, never a lack of things to do. That pretty much summarizes this organization, which supports the preservation and enhancement of the natural resources and cultural heritage of the five units -- Isle Royale National Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, and Keweenaw National Historic Park. Among its work has been obtaining bear boxes for Apostle Islands, Isle Royale educational trips for urban and disadvantaged students, and preserving, restoring, and furnishing the 1874 Au Sable Light Station at Pictured Rocks.

* National Park Trust

"Our vision is that ‘everyone will have an American park experience'. To achieve this we seek to champion the acquisition and preservation of critical national, state and local parklands and to build a greater awareness through education - focusing on our youth, especially those that are underserved."

* North Cascades Institute

The mission of this non-profit is to forge a closer relationship between humans and the natural world. It works toward that goal "through science, art, literature and the hands-on study of natural and cultural history. Our goal is to help people of all ages experience and enjoy the mountains, rivers, forests, people and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest – so all will care for and protect this special place." It operates the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, a partnership with the National Park Service and the City of Seattle, in North Cascades National Park. This group has received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator.

* Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Since 1964 this organization has worked with Park Service officials "to preserve and enhance the extraordinary natural, cultural, and recreational resources of Point Reyes National Seashore." Among its educational programs are a summer camp for school children, and field seminars that revolve around the seashore and photography, birding, painting, and an education center where teachers can teach their students while surrounded by the wonders of the seashore.

* Rocky Mountain Nature Association

Educational programs, field seminars, trail work, fellowships, visitor guides, land protection initiatives...what doesn't this organization do at Rocky Mountain National Park? "Over the last 20 years the Rocky Mountain Nature Association has tackled 44 special improvement projects benefiting the park," points out former Executive Director Curt Buchholtz. "Ranging from educational exhibits to visitor centers, from wheelchair accessible trails to land purchases, from publications to saving historic buildings - in every case, donors made these projects possible."

* Sequoia Parks Foundation

Art classes in the backcountry, sending park rangers into classrooms, enhancing our knowledge of sequoia trees via a literature review, interviews with key giant sequoia researchers, and “round-table” conversations on giant sequoia, funding search-and-rescue organizations, and working on trail improvements, and trail accessibility, are just some of the things this organization does at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

* Shenandoah National Park Trust

The trust is another non-profit that works to help Shenandoah National Park officials make ends meet. Along with underwriting programs such as "Ranger-Teacher-Ranger," the organization strives to educate visitors about both the wonders in the park and the threats it faces, such as air quality issues. It currently is working to fund an "air quality learning trail" that will explain the issues and take hikers past the park's air monitoring equipment.

* South Florida National Parks Trust

Much like National Parks of Lake Superior and Washington's National Park Fund, this organization works on behalf of more than one park, looking to the needs of Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas national parks as well as Big Cypress National Preserve. Among its focuses is seeing that children "have an opportunity to experience these remarkable places and learn about the resources these parks protect."

* Washington's National Park Fund

With three parks in its universe -- Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier -- this organization seeks charitable dollars that can be put to work in each of these parks. At Mount Rainier they've helped bring students to the park and restored the meadow at Paradise, at North Cascades they've underwritten improvements at the Wilderness Information Center at Marblemount, funded climate-change research involving pikas, and helped provide for butterfly monitoring, and at Olympic they've helped pay for monitoring of freshwater mussels in Lake Crescent, funded fish research in the park's rivers, and provided for a marmot wayside exhibit along Hurricane Ridge.

* Yellowstone Association Institute

Everyone knows there aren't enough rangers to go around. That's where groups such as the Yellowstone Association step in, providing interpretative programs and field programs to get Yellowstone National Park visitors into the out-of-doors. Since it opened for business in 1933, this non-profit has provided more than $24 million in exhibits, programs, and publications for the park and its visitors.

* Yellowstone Park Foundation

Among the heavy lifting done by this foundation for Yellowstone National Park is generating millions of dollars for the new Old Faithful Visitor Center, lighting systems to reduce light pollution in developed areas, campground restoration, visitor education, wildlife initiatives such as the Wolf Project, fisheries projects, even rehabbing backcountry patrol cabins used by rangers. Three-star rating from Charity Navigator.

* Yosemite Conservancy

Two became one when the Yosemite Fund and the Yosemite Association, the country's first national park "cooperating association," merged in 2010. Combined they continue to help Yosemite National Park by funding projects, and visitors by offering field courses. During the course of the past year the newly named organization provided educational programming, trail maintenance, and even bird studies to the tune of nearly $6 million in projects and programs in Yosemite. The Yosemite Conservancy has a three-star rating from the Charity Navigator.

Comments

I was surprised to see two stars from Charity Navigator for Friends of the Smokies. So I dug into it to understand why. Friends of the Smokies deserves 4 stars and only because that's the most that CN gives out. I am a member, donor and a volunteer of Friends of the Smokies.

This year, Friends funded $1.2 million in the Smokies for a long list of projects that the Park deemed important but didn't have the money for. That includes addition to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center museum and replacing logs in historic cabins. So how to explain the 2-stars?

The basic difference of opinion revolves around efforts to increase internally-managed, program-focused endowments. In other words, Friends put money away for big projects. The biggest such fund is an endowment for Trails Forever project. This money will fund an extra maintenance crew in the Park, for perpetuity, i.e. forever. The Smokies has 803 miles of trail which needs regular maintenance, new bridges and other fixtures. These improvements keep us all hiking in the Smokies.

Another example. At the park’s request, Friends of the Smokies spent almost $800,000 in 2010 to buy a 20-acre inholding - that's a private piece of land located in the Park. That purchase will not show up as an official park support expense until the land is transferred to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a process that has not yet taken place. The government works slowly and in the meantime, this money looks like it's not used the way it's intended.

Charity Navigator’s one-size-fits-all approach ignores these large projects. I
hope that its current and prospective donors will keep these facts in mind when
making decisions about future donations.Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park inthe country, needs our support and our money.

Danny Bernstein

www.hikertohiker.com

Danny- You have succinctly and expertly summarized the issues in plain language, and we applaud you. Thank you for caring, thank you for asking, and thank you ro commenting!