SUV drives through Yosemite as the mountaians tower in the distance.

Beyond the Shutdown: How National Parks Struggle and How You Can Help

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With Government Shutdown 2018-19 now 16 days and counting, it seems to be all anyone can talk about.

Experiencing much of the publicity and bearing much of the burden around the shutdown are the nation’s national parks. Overflowing trash cans and toilets, human feces and urine on roadsides and unplowed roads are just some of the reports coming out of the parks as more and more people flock to them to take advantage of free access, with no one there to collect what are often hefty entrance fees.

This unsettling news has appeared to rattle many while largely resulting in only more inaction. Only a relative few have been inspired to step in to help take care of these national treasures. The Muslim youth group that cleaned up trash outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, for example, or the locals who did the same in Joshua Tree National Park. Others have been content expressing their outrage on social media, sharing or posting articles about the shutdown’s impact on national parks with little thought given to the long-term and ongoing issues they face.

Currently, NPS has $11 billion in deferred maintenance.

Crumbling roads, buildings and bridges; trails and campgrounds in need of updates and repairs. These represent only some of the work necessary to maintain our national parks. Government shutdown or not, the National Park Service (NPS) is faced with the enormous task of maintaining our nation’s 60 national parks — not to mention more than 100 national monuments. And as attendance grows with every year so does the need for updating their infrastructure.

Currently, NPS has $11 billion in deferred maintenance — meaning upkeep or repairs that have been postponed due to budget constraints. In fiscal year 2017 alone, deferred maintenance increased by $275 million, or 2.5 percent, due to an increase in park attendance. Overall, more than 300 million people visit our nation’s national parks every year.

That our national parks need our help is clear. It’s how to go about doing so that’s a little fuzzy.

Fortunately, a myriad of nonprofits exist solely for this purpose, to make giving back to the parks easier, serving as an intermediary between citizens looking to give of their time or money and parks badly in need.

So whether you want to give your time or money, whether you have a specific park in mind or want to support them all, we’ve made doing so simpler. The following list, though not exhaustive, provides information about organizations that are committed to preserving and protecting these national treasures for years to come.

A myriad of nonprofits exist … to make giving back to the parks easier.

National Park Foundation

In an effort led by Lady Bird Johnson and Laurance Rockefeller, the National Park Foundation was created by Congress in 1967 to “further the conservation of natural, scenic, historic, scientific, educational, inspirational, or recreational resources for future generations of Americans,” according to the bill’s text. Private funds raised by the foundation benefit NPS. Join the Stewardship Circle or make a donation through your IRA or the organization’s employer matching gift program — or any other number of ways.

National Parks Conservation Association

Founded in 1919, the National Parks Conservation Association is the only independent, nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting America’s National Park System and preserving it for future generations. Giving options include monthly donations, gift memberships and estate planning options, among others.

Yellowstone Forever

The official education and fundraising nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Forever offers programming, products and services to help grow understanding and appreciation for the park’s wildlife, geology and history. You can give back to the park in a number of ways: sponsor a bear box (aka, a bear-proof food storage box) or donate at least $35 and receive a range of benefits.

Yosemite Conservancy

Yosemite Conservancy distributes grants to Yosemite National Park “based on the highest-priority needs of the park,” according to its website. Funds support trail and habitat restoration, wildlife protection, scientific research, youth programming and efforts to enhance the visitor experience. You can support Yosemite through the organization by volunteering as an information assistant or work crew member, buying conservancy books and other products or by making a donation — money, stocks or a car.

Zion National Park Forever Project

The official nonprofit partner for Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks and Pipe Spring National Monuments, the Zion National Park Forever Project strives to ensure lifelong stewardship of these public lands by inspiring future generations. It does so via education and innovative, targeted projects. You can choose from any number of these to support.

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Alexandra Vollman
Alexandra Vollman is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for the outdoors — especially hiking. As the co-founder and editor of Modern Conservationist, she oversees editorial management for the site. She has a bachelor’s degree in media communications and a master’s degree in writing and publishing. Alexandra enjoys using her knack for reporting and storytelling to instill in others a better understanding of and appreciation for nature.

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