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 you've ever camped near String Lake, or one of the park's other front-country campgrounds, you've likely benefited from the Foundation's 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 don't 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 park's Bighorn sheep, sage grouse, pikas, and cougars, and provides funding for tracking collars that greatly aid the park's scientists in their studies.
When you look at the Foundation's 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 Foundation's 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 park's borders.
The non-profit organization proved its mettle with its very first major project'raising 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 organization's effort to nurture future park stewards. A nationally significant element of that effort is the Foundation's innovative Pura Vida and Young Stewards and Leaders outreach programs that connect Hispanic youth to Grand Teton. Expanding diversity within the ranks of tomorrow's park advocates is critical to the future of this park'and the entire second century of all our parks. The Foundation's Youth Conservation Program brings teens into the park to work on trail maintenance and even projects benefitting historical sites. In addition, Grand Teton's NPS Academy, a collaboration between the National Park Service and the Foundation, plays an invaluable role in developing tomorrow's 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 area's rich historic character is the perfect backdrop to share the park's incredible conservation story.
'Helping 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,' says Leslie Mattson, the Foundation's president. 'Ultimately, our members and donors understand'they are the reason amazing projects continue to happen in the park.'
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.