In the early years after the National Park Service was created in 1916, our leaders and superintendents had a mission, a handful of parks and very limited resources to get parks under management and provide memorable visitor experiences. Stephen Mather, the first NPS Director, knew that building public support for a fledgling National Park System was crucial for its future. Resourcefulness and philanthropy helped grow our parks.
Fast forward to the last quarter century. Partnerships have become a way to get things done both within and beyond park boundaries. Some NPS parks and programs operate almost exclusively through partnerships. Many of the parks established in the last twenty-five years have clear mandates to partner. Heritage areas and corridors, and national trails and rivers are partnership units. Ecosystem-based resource management requires close collaboration with the array of managers and stakeholders across the ecosystem. Many solutions for park operation, transportation, visitor service and employee issues can only be found in concert with the park’s gateway communities, user groups, and the tour industry. Parks are serving as learning centers and parks are going into school classrooms through curriculum and computers. We respond to fires, medevacs, search and rescues, and other emergency situations through mutual aid pacts. NPS is a key player in a Nationwide System of Parks, Historic Places, and Open Spaces Initiative, which relies heavily on partnerships across political, jurisdictional, stakeholder, and land ownership boundaries.
One constant is that we still need to build strong public support, awareness of parks, and conservation values; a strong sense of stewardship more than ever with America’s changing demographics and landscape. Partnerships lead to involvement. Involvement leads to awareness.