Gale Norton and Fran Mainella would be proud of me.
With 2005 quickly running out of days, my mailbox seems to be overflowing with requests that I donate to this charity and that charity before the tax year ends. While there are hundreds, and likely thousands, of worthwhile charities, I usually funnel the bulk of my charitable dollars toward the parks.
Even with that decision made, there are hundreds of subsets to choose from when making out the check.
A year ago Money Magazine took a look at the charitable landscape and came to some conclusions regarding which were the best charities to give to. When it came to environmental causes, the magazine stated, the National Park Foundation was second-best in terms of how much of its spending actually goes to programs, at 78 percent. Only the Conservation Fund was better, as it saw that 94 percent of its dollars went directly to programs.
And while the National Park Foundation is indeed a good place to send your dollars, it's not the only worthy organization involved in helping our national parks. Just the other day I got a letter from the National Park Trust, which exists to help leverage purchases to expand the national park system. Back in 1994 the organization bought nearly 11,000 acres of tallgrass prairie in Kansas with the plan to donate it to the National Park Service. Unfortunately, Congress forbid the Park Service from owning more than 180 acres of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. So, earlier this year the National Park Trust handed over ownership of the preserve to the Kansas Park Trust.
On other fronts, the National Park Trust is working to save the old-growth Lake Atoka Forest in Oklahoma, trying to create a new national park around Blackwater Falls in West Virginia, and provide protected bison habitat in Montana north of Yellowstone National Park.
Of course, another group that works in the parks' best interests is the National Parks Conservation Association, which works year-round to lobby Congress on behalf of the park system. One of the notable projects this organization has been involved in for several years is working with individual parks to create sound business plans. NPCA, which was created back in 1919 and is the country's only private, non-profit park advocacy organization, also is a diligent watchdog over the Park Service and maintains a presence at congressional hearings called to inspect various aspects of the national park system. Donate to NPCA and not only will you help their cause, but they'll send you a subscription to their quarterly magazine, National Parks.
There also are many regional groups you can contribute to. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition works hard in the best interests of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and their surrounding ecosystem.
Many parks have their own private foundations that raise money for them. I annually make a donation to the Yellowstone Park Foundation, which helps fund projects and research in Yellowstone. For instance, the foundation is helping underwrite wolverine research in the park, has contributed crews to maintain some of the park's trails, and has installed exterior lights at Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs to diminish light pollution.
Within Yellowstone itself I like to contribute to the Yellowstone Association, which underwrites Yellowstone Science, a quarterly publication that reports on the park's various "ologies," as well as human history.
As you can see, there are quite a number of avenues for you to support the national parks. So if you haven't already, before the year ends contribute to our national park system through one of the many organizations that exist to advocate and improve the parks.
Let's make Gale and Fran proud! (Give enough and perhaps they'll honor you with a plaque!!)