It is highly unlikely that I'll ever hike all 800 or so miles of trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visits to Acadia National Park seem to come but once a decade, and hiking end-to-end the Appalachian Trail exists entirely in my dreams.
But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the good work of the various friends groups that strive to bring a little extra to these and other parks across the country.
For instance, did you know that:
* The Grand Teton National Park Foundation paid for and installed 70 bear-resistant storage boxes for campsites in Grand Teton National Park this year, or that it paid for the installation of eight water bottle refilling stations?
* That the Appalachian Trail Conservancy recruits and trains crews to maintain the entire 2,181 miles of the national scenic trail, and has a youth education program in place that, among other things, trains teachers for place-based education and service-learning on the Appalachian Trail?
* That Friends of Acadia helps underwrite the costs to operate the free Island Explorer shuttle buses at Acadia National Park that run on propane for a cleaner environment, and supports The Wild Gardens of Acadia at Sieur de Monts that offer park visitors an "award-winning microcosm of Acadia's uniquely varied plant communities in a serene brookside setting"?
* That the Yellowstone Park Foundation has paid to rehabilitate some backcountry ranger cabins in Yellowstone National Park, and works to see that enough horses and mules and their requisite gear are available to the park's backcountry rangers?
* That ruins at Virgin Islands National Park are stabilized thanks to dollars and sweat from the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, which also works on coral reef protection within the park's waters?
* That a museum and archival and research center at Mesa Verde National Park has been made possible, in part, through dollars raised by the Mesa Verde Foundation, which also is helping see that a Tribal Cultures Center and Dance Plaza is built in the park?
* That the Rocky Mountain Nature Association has established the "Next Generation Fund" that works to cultivate the next generation of stewards for the national parks in general and Rocky Mountain National Park in particular? The association also works to restore historic buildings and purchase inholdings and lands deemed critical to the park's viewsheds.
* That Friends of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore helps publish the lakeshore's newspaper and has been involved in refurbishing the lakeshore's historic lighthouses?
* That Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore raise valuable dollars to refurbish historic life-saving service facilities and to help the seashore staff with interpretive programs.
These are just a few examples of the good work done by friends groups across the country. You can learn what other projects the above groups are involving in by visiting their sites. And you likely can find the friends group tied to your favorite park simply by Googling the name of that park combined with "friends group."
While you might not get to visit these and other parks to see the work that's accomplished through their efforts, you can still appreciate them and help support their efforts.
And through tax-deductible donations (click through to a friends group's site and you'll find a link to do so), you can assemble a collection of friends group stickers showing your support, much like a collection of hiking staff medallions or National Parks Passport stamps you amass from your park visits.