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The National Parks Are Taking Corporate Donors

The National Parks Are Taking Corporate Donors

America’s national parks provide awe-inspiring landscapes and critical habitats for countless species. As these cherished parks face financial challenges, the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation (NPF) have turned to corporate donors for support.

While this strategy may seem like a lifeline for the parks, it raises questions about the potential consequences of corporate influence on these pristine landscapes. 

Today, we’re discussing the role of corporate donors in the preservation and maintenance of our national parks, plus uncovering who these donors are, what their motivations may be, and what their impact is. Let’s dive in. 

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Background: What Exactly Is the National Park Service (NPS)?

The National Park Service is a federal agency within the Department of the Interior. It is responsible for managing and preserving the United States National Parks and other protected areas. President Woodrow Wilson established it in 1916, and the National Park Service oversees a mind-blowing 425 parks. This includes national parks, national monuments, historic sites, scenic rivers, and more.

The National Park System covers a staggering 85 million acres across the country. The mission of this federal agency is to conserve these natural and cultural resources while providing education and recreational opportunities for present and future generations.

In 2022, 312 million people visited national park sites across the United States. Additionally, research projects, development projects, and other ranger programs are going on all the time.

In other words, they have a LOT going on.

Who Funds the National Park Service?

Funding for the National Park Service comes from various sources, including the federal government, user fees, and donations. Congress allocates most of its budget through the annual appropriation cycle and mandatory funds. The 2023 budget request to the Department of the Interior was as follows:

The 2023 budget request for NPS is $3.6 billion in discretionary funding. NPS estimates the budget
will support total staffing of 20,495 full-time equivalents in 2023…

The 2023 budget requests $3 .1 billion for operations of the national park system. The budget includes $553.0 million for Resource Stewardship, $279.8 million for Visitor Services, $444.2 million for Park Protection, $959.0 million for Facilities Operations and Maintenance, $636.1 million for Park Support, and $217.6 million for External Administrative Costs.

Fiscal Year 2023 The Interior Budget in Brief National Park Service

However, this funding often falls short of meeting the operational needs of the parks. As a result, the National Park Service has increasingly sought financial support from private donors, including corporations and philanthropic organizations, to bridge the funding gap. Private donations to the National Park Service usually go through the National Park Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. 

View of Rocky Mountain National Park
We love exploring national parks, which we can do thanks to the National Park Foundation.

What Is the National Park Foundation (NPF)?

The National Park Foundation is a nonprofit organization dating back to 1967 with the mission of raising private funds to support and protect America’s national parks. Today, it’s the only charitable nonprofit with a mission to directly fund the National Park Service and serves as their official charitable partner. In 2021, the Foundation granted $36.1 million to parks and partners.

The National Park Foundation plays a pivotal role in securing donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations to grow, protect, and maintain the National Park System. It does this through various partnership programs. 

For example, Winnebago Industries has partnered with the National Park Foundation to fund The BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Leaders of Color Service Corps. This program offers an entryway into conservation careers for marginalized groups who have historically been excluded from careers in preservation. 

Open OutDoors for Kids is another partnership program with funding from Union Pacific Railroad and many others. The mission of this program is to connect students – primarily fourth graders – with the history and preservation of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park through weekly field trips. 

Pro Tip: Want to know more about the NPS? We uncovered Are Homeless People Living in the National Parks?

Olympic National Park, Hoh Rainforest, Washington State, USA
Corporate donors help the NPS conserve the natural and cultural resources throughout the USA’s national parks.

Who Are the Largest Corporate Donors to the National Park Foundation? 

The National Park Foundation relies on corporate donors to advance its mission. Many companies have stepped forward to support America’s national parks. Some of the largest corporate donors include Anheuser-Busch, Nature Valley, L.L.Bean, Coca-Cola, Tupperware® & Tupperware Brands Foundation, the Union Pacific Railroad, and Stericycle, among many more. We personally find this list fascinating, as while many of the donors make a lot of sense, some seem a little less mission-aligned at first glance.

For instance, let’s look at one interesting donor: Coca-Cola. This soda company isn’t typically seen as the epitome of wholesomeness, so you might be surprised to know that it has a longstanding partnership with the National Park Foundation. The foundation recognizes Coca-Cola as a donor who has provided over $1 million to the parks. On its website, the National Park Foundation states, “The Coca-Cola Company’s long-standing support provides critical funds to protect vital natural resources within our national parks and promote sustainable practices.”

Another interesting top donor is Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser beer. Their donation was a driving force behind the 2015 Find Your Park project. And have you heard of the company Stericycle? We hadn’t either. They were one of the top-ten donors of 2021, and they specialize in medical waste and document distruction.

Front shot of a group of friends hiking in the mountains
Some famous brands you know donate to the National Park System.

Which Company Has Donated the Most Money to National Parks? 

Can you guess which company has donated the most to the National Park Foundation? It’s Subaru. Subaru has emerged as a remarkable corporate champion for the preservation of our nation’s natural treasures, donating a whopping $55 million to the National Park Foundation since 2013. 

Like it or hate it, Subaru’s donations have played a pivotal role in preserving and protecting these invaluable ecosystems. They help ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty and serenity of our national parks. Their dedication to environmental stewardship sets an example for the corporate world. It also underscores the importance of corporate social responsibility in safeguarding our planet. 

Why Do People Donate to National Parks? 

People donate to national parks for various reasons. Usually, they’re driven by a deep appreciation for the environment and a desire to ensure its preservation for future generations. They also recognize the importance of national parks as places of recreation and education. Many support programs that enhance the visitor experience and teach younger generations about conservation. 

While there’s no doubt that corporate donors likely have the same sentiments, we can’t deny that there are other incentives. Some donors want to leave a lasting legacy by contributing to the preservation of America’s natural and cultural heritage. For some big businesses, supporting national parks aligns with their corporate social responsibility goals and helps build a positive public image. Placing their logos on the National Park Foundation’s “Corporate Sponsorships” page certainly doesn’t hurt business, and it helps customers feel good about buying their products. 

Pro Tip: Not all states have national parks. Find out Are They Still Worth Visiting?

Sunrise over New Mexico National Park
There are many pros and cons to the NPS using corporate donors.

What Impact Do Corporate Donors Have on National Parks? 

There’s no doubt that large corporate donors have a significant impact on the National Parks. However, there are pros and cons. Corporate donors provide much-needed funding for critical projects like trail maintenance, visitor center upgrades, and habitat restoration. Without donations, the funding from the government alone wouldn’t be enough. Some corporate partnerships have brought innovative solutions to park management like sustainable technologies and eco-friendly practices.

Many corporations engage in educational programs and outreach efforts that help raise awareness about the importance of national parks and environmental conservation. Moreover, donations from corporate partners often go toward improving accessibility for all visitors, ensuring that people of all abilities and backgrounds can access the parks. 

But as John Muir once wrote, “Nothing dollarable is ever safe, however guarded.” Large corporate donations raise concerns for some people about undue influence on park management decisions, potentially compromising the parks’ conservation goals. For example, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) raised concerns about Coca-Cola’s agreement with the National Park Foundation, stating that it included special visitation opportunities for executives, marketing support, and promotional media. 

There’s also concern about overly commercialized partnerships detracting from the natural experience and tranquility of national parks. Some people worry about the commodification of public lands. Some corporate initiatives like branding or sponsorship agreements may have unintended environmental consequences, like increased waste or energy consumption.

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Are Corporate Donors Good for Our National Parks? 

The question of whether corporate donors are good for our national parks is complex. The answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” Their financial support is valuable for addressing funding shortfalls and enhancing visitor experiences. However, the parks must carefully balance it with safeguards to protect the parks’ integrity and purpose. By upholding transparency, sustainability, accountability, and public engagement, we can ensure that corporate donors remain a force for good in protecting and preserving these national treasures for generations to come. 

Do you think corporate funding for National Parks is a good thing? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Saturday 4th of November 2023

Absolutely should accept corporate donors. The taxpayers are tapped out and Congress can’t seem to have any self control on spending. Businesses survive by being profitable. Let them use their profits as they see fit and for the benefit of the NPS.