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Parks Philanthropy: It Shouldn't Only Be About Bricks and Mortar

National Park Foundation Leadership Summit

Thank you Morton Meyerson.

In case anyone at the National Park Foundation's Leadership Summit on Partnership and Philanthropy was wondering, giving to the national parks shouldn't be focused solely on brick and mortar projects.

Mr. Meyerson, the third speaker at the foundation's inaugural conference to delve into how partnerships and philanthropy can make the national parks a better place in their second century, made that quite clear. In the five or so minutes he had to address the conference at the University of Texas in Austin, Mr. Meyerson talked about how he got to know state and national parks as a young child because that's where his parents took him on vacation, and that's what he did with his children.

Now Mr. Meyerson, who runs a private investment firm, believes all youngsters growing up in America should share in that same experience.

"I think that we should be thinking about how to integrate school children into the national parks," he told the gathering. "That is a dream worth working for."

Sunday's opening session of the conference ran only a half-day. But it was delivered in such staccato fashion -- six different topics ranging from the "Power of Partnerships in the 21st Century" and the "National Park Ideal: Articulating the Vision" to "A Vision for Corporate Stewardship" and the "Public Benefit of Parks" and involving more than a dozen speakers -- that it has me wondering how anyone will keep up with the pace of the next two days.

Since this is the first time the National Parks Foundation, which Congress has charged with raising charitable dollars for the parks, has ever held such a gathering, it should not be criticized for over-reaching in drawing up the agenda. Perhaps that was exactly the idea from the start: Throw out so many ideas, so many possibilities, that enough good ones would filter down to be acted upon.

Mr. Meyerson's was the best of the first day's offerings. Oh, he doesn't know how his idea will be parlayed into reality. But he dared to share it with the audience.

Congressman Mark Souder, a Republican from Indiana, took Mr. Meyerson's goal a step further, saying (without elaborating) that he doesn't "believe anyone under a certain income should have to pay any fees" to get into the parks. But the congressman also admitted that he doesn't know "whether government can keep up with the basic funding."

Not all suggestions and comments were ones I could embrace.

* There were calls for even more volunteers and partnerships to help run the parks.

* Jon Jarvis, director of the Park Service's Pacific-West Region, allowed that he sees nothing wrong with discussing with partners the traits they'd like to see in park managers, and said he has run some candidates' names past partners in the past.

* Some in the crowd thought the Park Service should lengthen the contracts it signs with concessionaires.

Sunday's session was simply the tip of the iceberg of what's to come. It's too soon to make rash generalizations or assumptions. But if we hear more ideas along the lines of those offered by Mr. Meyerson and Rep. Souder, the conferees just might propose enough worthwhile projects to follow up on.


i'm glad to hear someone from the private sector saying this... in the philanthropic world, in my experience, no one wants to fund staff, they want to fund "tangible, on the ground results." to them (before you all start gang piling on this comment) this means building things, like visitor centers and toilets... it doesn't mean funding interpreters, the cleaning and/or pumping of pit toilets and other things that while they are great, they don't always get the job done on the ground.

great post, kudos to mr. morton for pushing for education and funding more than new visitor centers.

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