How a Sister Park Model Works

Cuatrocienegas National Park (top) and White Sands National Park (bottom) show the similarities between both parks.
Cuatrocienegas National Park (top) and White Sands National Park (bottom) show the white sand that is similar to both parks.They are joined in a Sister Park Arrangement.

NPS Photos.

Is a Sister Park Partnership Right For You?

To develop a Sister Park relationship, park managers must first decide whether they and their staff have the time to dedicate themselves to managing a relationship and a commitment to collaborating.

Once a park has decided to move forward, how does it find a suitable Sister? Perhaps park staff have visited a certain park overseas and found a connection, or the park may wish to sister with a park that has similar resources, ecosystems, on-going research, or activities. Whatever the common interests, they should be substantial enough to sustain a sister park arrangement, and the resulting exchange activities, on an ongoing basis.

A sister park signing ceremony between Glacier Bay - West Norwegian Fjords
A sister park signing ceremony between Glacier Bay & West Norwegian Fjords.

Image by Glacier Bay.

Establishing a Connection

Once a national park has an interest in establishing a sister park arrangement, and a potential sister park has been identified, a dialogue needs to begin. The Office of International Affairs can assist the park in making the initial contacts or the park itself can begin the conversation.

Is the other park interested? Does it also have staff willing to foster a relationship? And how will each park share with each other? Will it be through staff visits, Facebook chats, shared research, exchange of exhibits, video conferencing, or other means?

If both parks decide to move forward, then a non-binding agreement detailing how the relationship will work should be signed between both parties. The Office of International Affairs has a standard template for such an agreement and will work with the State Department to assure that the agreement meets the necessary requirements.

The Mammoth Cave National Park superintendent attends a formal dinner in China to sign a sister park arrangment document.
The superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park stands with Chinese officials before signing an arrangement to create a new sister parkĀ  between his park and South China Karst World Heritage Site.

NPS Photo by Rudy D'Alessandro.

Signing Ceremonies

Once both parks have agreed to the areas they will collaborate on and how the relationship will work, and once the State Department has approved the document, both parks sign off on the arrangement.

If travel costs are prohibitive, sometimes a document can be signed in one park then faxed to the other for signature. Other times, a more formal event will be held to celebrate the creation of the sister park relationship. If needed, copies will be created in both English and the other park's native language. Whatever the case, the creation of a new sister park arrangement is cause for celebration, as two parks have agreed to work on environmental or cultural issues of mutual concern.

Students from Monte Verde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, learn how to conduct environemtal surveys at Rocky Mountain NP.
Students from Monte Verde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, sister to Rocky Mountain NP, learn how to conduct environemtal surveys so that they can return home and conduct their own.

NPS Photo.

Collaborative Efforts

Once the dust has settled from the ceremony of agreeing to cooperate, parks begin the efforts to work together on the common issues they share. Sometime there will be exchanges of staff for training purposes or review of the resources, other times there may be sharing of information, booklets, research or other things.

Texting, Facebook, Twitter and other virtual communication helps keep the friendship alive and the ideas flowing. Whatever the case, sharing and learning from each other continues to help build a strong relationship.

Last updated: September 20, 2022