Celebrating 40 Years

Our Story: 

In 1983 National Park Trust was founded by a group of committed individuals passionate about protecting our nation’s parks. Today, the Park Trust benefits from a vibrant community of park enthusiasts, including board members, educators, students, families, military communities, nonprofit partners, donors, and staff who work together to support our mission to preserve parks today and create park stewards for tomorrow. 

Established 40 years ago by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the National Park Trust was created to assist the National Park Service (NPS) in purchasing privately owned lands located within and adjacent to the boundaries of our national park units; properties identified by NPS as critical to the National Park System and the visitor experience. 

As the Park Trust’s land acquisition work expanded, it became clear that there was a need to create a separate nonprofit entity. In 1990, the board of NPCA voted to make the National Park Trust a new independent organization with its own 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status governed by a separate Board of Trustees. 

Today, our mission is to preserve parks today and create park stewards for tomorrow. But that wasn’t always the case, and before 2009, land acquisition was the sole strategy to support the Park Trust’s mission of protecting our national parks. Everything changed at a pivotal 2008 meeting between Executive Director Grace Lee and Board Chair Bill Brownell when they met with the Obama transition team in 2008. Bob Stanton, the first and only African American Director of the National Park Service was a member of that team representing the Department of Interior. What Bob said in that meeting sparked a transformational expansion of the National Park Trust’s strategy and programs. His message was this: 

Although land acquisition is important, parks can’t be preserved and protected without dedicated stewards. The biggest problem facing the National Park Service is that the demographics of people who visit our parks don’t match the rich diversity of our country. We rarely see young people and even fewer people of color.”

Bob challenged us to take a proactive step towards connecting youth, especially youth of color, to parks and the great outdoors. As a result, the following year, in 2009, the Park Trust added “creating park stewards for tomorrow” to our mission, a new strategy for protecting our national parks. The Buddy Bison Program was piloted in 2009 to introduce Title I students to the great outdoors and inspire them to become our nation’s future diverse generation of park stewards.

Today thanks to our many partners, board, and staff, we aim to accomplish our mission in two ways: 

First, the National Park Trust continues to support the National Park Service when they seek our expertise and resources to purchase the missing pieces of our national parks. The acquisition of these privately owned lands, located inside or adjacent to national park boundaries, helps preserve the integrity of national parks, including places of historical and cultural significance and magnificent landscapes. In 40 years, the Park Trust has succeeded at adding over 25,000 acres to our nation’s parks in 32 states, DC, and the US Virgin Islands. The size of these parcels ranges from less than an acre to tens of thousands of acres. No matter the size, each complex project is the highest priority to the park and community. 

Second, the Park Trust works to meet the needs of NPS by cultivating and inspiring the next generation of park stewards. We believe our public parks, lands, and waters should be cared for, enjoyed by, and preserved by all for current and future generations. Our youth and family programs annually engage tens of thousands of students from Kindergarten through college – and thousands of families across the country.

As we look to the future, our work is more important than ever. We remain committed to our vision that everyone will experience the endless possibilities of our public parks, lands, and waters.