Partners and Alliances
James M. Ridenour, former director of Indiana's Department of Natural
Resources, became the thirteenth director of the National Park Service
in 1989. From the outset, he stressed the importance of working with
other government bodies, foundations, corporations, other private
groups, and individuals to protect valuable lands in and outside the
national park system.
Ridenour's emphasis on cooperation and partnerships was not new. Ever
since the Mather years, the Service and system have benefited richly
from the contributions of others. The Rockefeller family donated
millions of dollars for substantial portions of Acadia, Great Smoky
Mountains, Grand Teton, and Virgin Islands national parks, lesser parts
of many other parks, and numerous park improvements. The Mellon family
foundations contributed heavily to seashore and lakeshore surveys and
land acquisition at Cape Hatteras and Cumberland Island national
seashores, among other projects. In July 1990, the Richard King Mellon
Foundation made the largest single park donation to that time: $10.5
million for needed lands at Antietam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and
Petersburg battlefields and Shenandoah National Park.
More often, private contributions have taken the form of volunteer
efforts to preserve and interpret national parklands and landmarks.
Somewhere in the history of nearly every park is a dedicated group or
individual who cared enough about that place to do whatever was
necessary to save it, improve it, and share its significance with
others. Rocky Mountain National Park had its Enos Mills. Crater Lake had
its William Gladstone Steel. Mount McKinley now Denali had
its Charles Sheldon. Everglades had its Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.
Colorado National Monument had its John Otto. The Chesapeake and Ohio
Canal had its William O. Douglas. Organizations like the Sierra Club,
the Wilderness Society, and the National Parks and Conservation
Association have worked to establish and protect numerous national
Other groups have assumed primary responsibility for places that
might otherwise require Service management. George Washington's Mount
Vernon is ably cared for by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, while
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello prospers in the equally good hands of the
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. Both properties bear the national
historic landmark plaque, awarded by the secretary of the interior to
nationally significant historic places regardless of ownership.
Organizations like those at Mount Vernon and Monticello are vital
partners of the Service in preserving and providing for public enjoyment
of America's greatest treasures.
As the Service celebrates its 75th anniversary, it faces challenges
greater than at any time in its history. The parks, many buffered by
rural or wilderness surroundings in years past, are increasingly
besieged by development. What goes on outside their boundaries can
affect their air, their water, their wildlife, their natural and
historic ambience, as profoundly as what goes on within. Natural and
cultural landmarks outside the parks face similar threats, prompting
pressures to include them in the park system.
Were it ever possible for the Service itself to preserve the parks
"unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations," it is no longer.
Nor can the Service be expected to shoulder alone the burden of
protecting other threatened nationally significant lands and resources.
The call for cooperation and partnerships with others may not be new,
but it is more vital than ever.
If the past is indeed prologue, the call will be heard and