When Yellowstone received the first national park designation in 1872, Congress didn’t allocate a single dollar for rangers, a superintendent, or tourist services. Now, 144 years later, the parks still struggle with funding. Private individuals and businesses have offered support almost since the beginning.
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In addition to donating tracts of land over the years, wealthy donors have supplied funds to repair properties, like the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument in 2012. Nonprofits run field trips, classes, and volunteer projects for the parks. And the Centennial Challenge, begun during the George W. Bush administration, has solicited $45 million in matching funds to run maintenance and other projects, from trail building in Acadia and Great Smoky Mountains to wolf studies in Denali.
Last year, Subaru, which runs a zero-waste car-manufacturing plant in Indiana, announced an effort to help Grand Teton, Denali, and Yosemite reduce their waste streams so that none of it ends up in a landfill. And this year, REI sponsored an app that recommends the parks’ best hikes.
Private partnerships aren’t without risks. Recently the Park Service entered a trademark dispute after discovering that a concessionaire had registered the names of historic Yosemite landmarks. (Consequently, the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel is now the Majestic Yosemite.)
But Theresa Pierno, CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, says that partnerships are vital to cash-strapped parks. “Until Congress steps up and funds these efforts, we need them,” she says.