Editor's note: Grand Teton National Park spikes into the sky in Western Wyoming. And within that landscape are many needs, needs that the National Park Service can't always afford to manage itself. That's where the Grand Teton National Park Foundation comes in. In this installment of the Traveler's Essential Friends project, we introduce you to the Foundation and its mission in the park.
Grizzles are perhaps the iconic species of the Rocky Mountain West and animal emblematic of the western landscape going back centuries, one that personifies the strength of nature in the region. Educating visitors about magnificent wildlife and other park resources is one of the key missions Grand Teton National Park Foundation shares with the National Park Service.
If youâve ever camped near String Lake, or one of the parkâs other front-country campgrounds, youâve likely benefited from the Foundationâs work. Throughout the park this national park friends group has used donations to purchase and install more than 200 bear-resistant food storage boxes so you donât need to worry about having your food cache raided ... or about inadvertently teaching bears that humans are food dispensers.
Funding wildlife research, and protecting that wildlife is another important Foundation mission. The Foundation underwrites studies that relate to the parkâs Bighorn sheep, sage grouse, pikas, and cougars, and provides funding for tracking collars that greatly aid the parkâs scientists in their studies.
When you look at the Foundationâs work, it is easy to see that its diverse efforts to benefit Grand Teton are reflective of the many dimensions of its namesake national park. A quick glance at the Foundationâs strategic plan shows initiatives touching wildlife, trails, historic preservation, artifact collection and restoration, even efforts to help Grand Teton acquire privately held property within the parkâs borders.
The non-profit organization proved its mettle with its very first major projectâraising funds for the $25 million Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, a state-of-the- art, sustainable facility that opened in 2007, with an auditorium addition in 2011. This 25,600-square-foot facility, named after the late U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming, who loved the park, was sorely needed to properly showcase interpretive exhibits and help orient visitors.
Just as vital is the organizationâs effort to nurture future park stewards. A nationally significant element of that effort is the Foundationâs innovative Pura Vida and Young Stewards and Leaders outreach programs that connect Hispanic youth to Grand Teton. Expanding diversity within the ranks of tomorrowâs park advocates is critical to the future of this parkâand the entire second century of all our parks. The Foundationâs Youth Conservation Program brings teens into the park to work on trail maintenance and even projects benefitting historical sites. In addition, Grand Tetonâs NPS Academy, a collaboration between the National Park Service and the Foundation, plays an invaluable role in developing tomorrowâs national park managers.
Going forward, the Foundation is poised to launch a campaign to rejuvenate the Jenny Lake area of the park, a popular destination that has sustained a good measure of wear-and-tear from decades of heavy use. Trails need repairs, wildlife habitat must be protected, interpretation can be improved, and the areaâs rich historic character is the perfect backdrop to share the parkâs incredible conservation story.
âHelping people connect to Grand Teton has resulted in significant support for our park and our donors feel closer to the interesting things going on here,â says Leslie Mattson, the Foundationâs president. âUltimately, our members and donors understandâthey are the reason amazing projects continue to happen in the park.â
Coming Sunday on the Traveler: Insider tips from the the Grand Teton Foundation for exploring "A Western Classic."
Coming next Wednesday: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Wilderness Magic in the East.