Editor's note: Throughout the summer we're featuring national park friends groups from around the country to highlight the value they bring to the National Park System. Friends of Big Bend National Park constantly is involved with its namesake park, whether landing funds to improve interpretive exhibits or to help maintain trails. This is their story.
The foremost mission of the National Park Service is to preserve the units of the park system, but providing for public enjoyment and education through interpretation is never overlooked. Helping drive both those missions at Big Bend is Friends of Big Bend National Park, a group that one day could be sponsoring a road or trail run and the next day spending the proceeds from that race on maintaining trails in the park.
“With the ever-increasing squeeze on park budgets, we have been talking about long-term planning,” says Courtney Lyons-Garcia, executive director of the friends group. “We hope to grow this Trails Fund into an endowment that will eventually pay the park’s annual trail maintenance costs. We have just started it, but we feel confident that we can put $10,000 a year into this fund from the Ultra Run, which was just named Best Trail Run in a national park by Runner’s World magazine.”
Enhancing interpretation and the visitor’s experience of Big Bend is a primary goal of the friends group, which is bootstrapping a $1.1 million campaign for a Fossil Discovery Trail. This initiative is the most significant addition to Big Bend’s interpretive facilities in decades.
It will create an interpretive timeline that will traverse the various ancient environments— volcanic savannah, inland floodplain, coastal floodplain, and marine environment—that gripped this landscape down through the ages. Visitors will learn about these geologic periods and the park’s fossilized past as they stop at pavilions along the loop trail proposed for Tornillo Creek.
Through a combination of fossil replicas, interpretive text, artwork, geologic diagrams and viewing scopes set up in the pavilions, visitors will be able to make the connection between the fossilized remains from four eras and the geologic formations that exist in Big Bend today.
In the past, Friends of Big Bend also has provided more than $200,000 for an interpretive video at the park’s Panther Junction Visitor Center, and used income from sales of the friends group’s custom state license plates to fund wetlands restoration, and teacher education programs.
The non-profit organization also played a major role in protecting Big Bend’s night skies by helping to underwrite improved lighting systems at Panther Junction and in the Chisos Basin.
Representative of the crossboundary wonders Big Bend National Park shares with Mexico, the friends group also supports efforts to increase cross-border cooperation for the protection of the Chihuahuan Desert. In line with that, the friends group recently helped fund signage and staffing of the new Boquillas Border Crossing Station.
Through it all—running races, orientation films, fossil trails—Friends of Big Bend thrives on the passion of its supporters.
“The best thing about the Friends of Big Bend is that so many members are sincerely dedicated to the park,” says Ms. Lyons-Garcia. “In addition to funds, they provide donated images, in-kind services, and countless volunteer hours. The enthusiasm of those volunteers and contributors is what makes our events and publications a success and permits us to provide funds and services to the park.”