Having just returned from Yellowstone, it’s fitting Grand Teton National Park Foundation is my next Small Change Spotlight. Last week, I was a little more than a “stones throw away” (or about an hours drive) from the Grand Tetons, but my friend and I were told given our limited time in the area, visiting the park was a separate trip.
I learned about Grand Teton National Park Foundation this past summer when Karla Sanders donated to the Foundation as part of running the Grand Teton Half Marathon and sharing her Small Change donation story with me.
I recently caught up with Maddy Jacobson, Development & Communications Associate at Grand Teton National Park Foundation, to learn more about the Foundation and how it’s instrumental in preserving the park while educating and inspiring a lifelong love of our wildplaces for current and future generations.
What does Grand Teton National Park Foundation do?
Our mission is to fund projects that enhance Grand Teton National Park’s cultural, historic, and natural resources and help others learn about and protect all that is special in the park. By supporting work that goes beyond what the National Park Service could accomplish on its own, the Foundation initiates improvements, critical research, and outreach that enrich visitors’ experiences and creates a stable future for Grand Teton National Park. On an annual basis we support wildlife research and protection, youth programs, historic preservation, and more.
What is your greatest need as an organization?
As Grand Teton’s primary fundraising partner, our needs reflect those of Grand Teton National Park. Visitation continues to rise and federal budgets continue to decrease, which impacts park resources and the visitor experience. We support projects and programs that help the park achieve goals in the midst of modern-day challenges.
Can you share a memorable impact story?
In celebration of the National Park Service centennial this past August, we completed a major capital campaign—Inspiring Journeys: A Campaign for Jenny Lake—to improve Grand Teton’s most iconic destination. This $18 million public-private effort is restoring backcountry trails and frontcountry visitor services for the next 100 years at Jenny Lake.
The project is in the third year of construction, and Grand Teton’s trail crews are using long-lasting methods and materials, such as dry-stone masonry techniques to honor the timeless craftsmanship of the Civilian Conservation Corps who built the original path in the 1930s. Crews have already improved over 3.5 miles of trail in the backcountry. Work in the frontcountry began this past spring. After decades of use by visitors, the area at South Jenny Lake was full of social trails and generally caused confusion for visitors. Crews are working to create an intuitive trail system, sustainable lake overlooks, and engaging interpretive areas that will give a wide range of visitors the opportunity to truly enjoy Jenny Lake and expand their understanding of the area. The completed work is beautiful and construction is projected to be finished by summer 2018.
What are some of the threats to Grand Teton National Park?
The threats to Grand Teton are not much different from those faced by other national parks in the United States. Some that come to mind are invasive species, climate change, maintenance backlogs, transportation, lack of diversity, and increased visitation. For example, Grand Teton welcomed a record number of visitors in 2015, over 4.6 million visits, an 8.2% increase from the previous record set in 2014. This record visitation means that park staff will reach a larger audience and connect with the next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates. However, the increases also lead to significant impacts on park resources, staff, facilities, and other visitor experiences.
What does success look like?
Just like all national parks, Grand Teton has enormously complex challenges at a time of limited federal budgets and increased visitation. Success to us is seeing the results of our projects that have allowed the park to accomplish its goals of preservation and protection of Grand Teton National Park and its landscapes, ecosystems, wildlife, and cultural and historic resources. Some of our greatest successes include the building of the Craig Thomas Visitor and Discovery Center in Moose, improving trails and visitor services at Jenny Lake, engaging young and diverse people in our youth engagement initiatives, installing bear resistant food-storage lockers in frontcountry campgrounds and picnic areas, restoring cultural and historic resources, protecting wildlife and their habitat, and much more.
How can the community get involved with the Foundation?
Volunteering is a great way to get involved with the Foundation – we support two different groups of volunteers each year. Hammer Corps volunteers spend their summer helping to restore various historic properties in Grand Teton. The Wildlife Brigade volunteers manage roadside wildlife jams, patrols picnic areas for unsecured food, and shares educational information with visitors about wildlife. Anyone can apply to volunteer with these groups.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Our most recent initiative is to raise funds to purchase one square mile of state-owned land in the heart of Grand Teton National Park, known as the Antelope Flats Parcel. This land, valued at $46 million, is owned by the state of Wyoming and held in a school trust. The state is required to earn income on trust assets for the beneficiaries—Wyoming’s public school children. The parcel has outstanding scenic vistas and provides vital habitat for many species of wildlife. If the National Park Service does not purchase this parcel by the end of the year, it could go to auction and potentially be developed. With our partner, the National Park Foundation, we have committed to raising $23 million. The remaining half of the purchase price will come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. To date, we have raised over $12 million.
Keeping with the theme of my blog, what’s your favorite local outdoor spot?
It’s hard to pick a favorite as there are so many incredible places to go in Grand Teton National Park. I do love canoeing on the Snake River from the Jackson Lake Dam to Pacific Creek. It’s very peaceful and has extraordinary views, and inevitably, I will see moose, bald eagles, beavers, and muskrat. I feel especially fortunate when I see river otters. There’s something so magical about water and wildlife.
My ask of everyone reading the Spotlights is to share them, get involved with the organization if you live in the area, or if you’re inspired by the work they do, consider supporting them. Where’s your next race or adventure? I encourage you to leave behind a little Small Change in your destination city. The organization you select may be the next Spotlight.
A special thanks to Karla who donated $50 to Grand Tetons National Park Foundation as part of running the Grand Teton Half Marathon. She and her husband, Andres, are on a quest to visit all national parks.