Evolution of Philanthropy in the National Park System

Point 1

Here is a sampling of giving examples. Our National Park System benefited from private contributions even before Congress created the National Park Service.

  • In 1907, Mr. and Mrs. William Kent donated the land that became Muir Woods National Monument, California.
  • The first director of the National Park Service, Stephen T. Mather, personally contributed to the parks and their administration. In 1915, he and others bought the privately-owned Tioga Road for Yosemite National Park. In 1916, he persuaded several western railroads to join him in funding the National Parks Portfolio, which publicized the parks and helped persuade Congress to create the National Park Service. Among his later personal expenditures, Mather provided funds in 1920 to build the Rangers Club at Yosemite.

The first park museums resulted largely from philanthropy.

  • A museum at Mesa Verde National Park built with contributions from Stella Leviston and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., opened in 1925, as did a museum at Yosemite funded by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial.
  • Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Loomis gave the Loomis Memorial Museum and forty acres of land to Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1929.

America's leading philanthropic families played a major role in the growth of the National Park System.

  • The Rockefeller Family's role over the years has been remarkable. They gave money to:
    • Purchase land and build the carriage roads at Acadia National Park
    • Enlarge and improve Grand Teton National Park
    • Establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    • Purchase the land for Virgin Islands National Park
    • Expand Yosemite National Park
    • Purchase lands for Big Bend, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Haleakala, Lassen Volcanic, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks; Antietam, Big Hole, and Fort Donelson National Battlefields; Capulin Volcano and George Washington Birthplace National Monuments; Colonial National Historical Park; Ford's Theatre National Historic Site; and Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • In 1993 Laurance and his wife, Mary, gave their historic Vermont estate valued at $21.4 million with a $7.5 million endowment to establish Marsh-Billings National Historical Park (later re-designated Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park).
  • In 1986, Laurance helped launch the Horace M. Albright-Conrad L. Wirth Employee Development Fund.
  • The Mellon family was another key benefactor. Their family foundations funded the purchase of much of the land for Cape Hatteras and Cumberland Island National Seashores, and Hampton National Historic Site. Mellon gifts contributed to the preservation of Redwood and Rocky Mountain National Parks. In 1990, the Richard King Mellon Foundation donated funds for lands at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Petersburg National Battlefields; Pecos National Historical Park; and Shenandoah National Park.

Many individuals and groups donated or funded single parks or park additions:

  • On behalf of Adams family descendants, the Adams Memorial Society donated Adams National Historic Site.
  • Catherine Filene Shouse donated the land and theater for Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts.

Numerous park facilities and improvements continue to be made possible by private philanthropy. A few examples:

  • Claude E. Fuller donated his extensive firearm collection for a permanent exhibit at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
  • In the largest park fund-raising venture to date, corporations joined with individuals, foundations, and other nonprofit entities under the leadership of Lee Iaccoca in contributing $87 million to refurbish the Statue of Liberty by 1986 and $160 million to restore Ellis Island's Great Hall by 1990. Over $500 million has been raised to date. (Originally, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France. Pennies from school children across America paid for the platform structure on which the Statue of Liberty was placed.)
  • In 1998 the Haas Family Fund donated a $13 million lead gift toward a $34 million campaign funded by many that transformed the Presidio's Crissy Field at Golden Gate National Recreation Area into a premier shoreline park on San Francisco Bay.
  • In 1998, Walter and Leonore Annenberg gave $10 million to help develop the new Liberty Bell complex and provide improvements at Independence National Historical Park.
  • The year 1999 marked the successful culmination of a ten-year, $56 million fundraising drive for improvements at Mount Rushmore National Park through the Mount Rushmore Preservation Fund.