Many options for ‘giving back’ to Yellowstone during holidays

The Yellowstone Park Foundation funds a range of programs and projects, including a long-term effort to reduce lake trout populations in Yellowstone National Park.

The Yellowstone Park Foundation funds a range of programs and projects, including a long-term effort to reduce lake trout populations in Yellowstone National Park.

As Christmas fast approaches and shoppers are working through their gift lists, one organization is reminding supporters of Yellowstone National Park that it’s a great time of year to consider giving a little something extra to the world’s first national park.

Based in Bozeman, Mont., the Yellowstone Park Foundation offers donors a range of holiday gift ideas, with proceeds helping fund what backers call “the margin of excellence” in how Yellowstone’s resources are protected and shared with the public.

As the official fundraising partner for Yellowstone, the Foundation provides grant money for programs and projects identified by Superintendent Dan Wenk, helping fill the gaps in the park’s budget. Since its inception in 1996, the foundation has raised more than $75 million and helped fund more than 250 separate projects.

Foundation President Karen Kress said donors contribute throughout the year, but December is typically a time when many choose to make a gift in someone else’s name, or to make a tax deductible contribution as part of year-end financial planning.

Many supporters choose to direct their gift toward a specific program or project, Kress said, choosing from a diverse array of initiatives with funding needs ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million.

“People like to see where their money is going, so they often choose to contribute to a specific project,” she said.

The Foundation is building a catalog that will include dozens of projects and programs from among a list of 45 funding priorities identified by the National Park Service.

The Foundation typically covers, for instance, approximately 70 percent of the budget for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, raising at least $200,000 annually to help pay for tracking collars and long-term research on the park’s wolf packs.

Some projects funded by the foundation, like helping hire seasonal rangers to manage traffic jams around wildlife sightings, can make a big difference to the average visitor moving through the park. Others, like a long-term program that will funnel millions toward removing invasive lake trout from park waters, aren’t as obvious, but just as important, Kress said.

Cultivating a new generation of stewards with a passion for Yellowstone is another Foundation focus. Expedition Yellowstone helps fund 4- and 5-day trips to the park for area school kids, while Youth Conservation Corps is a summer work study program for teens who spend several days living and working in the park.

“It’s a way to get these kids engaged, it makes them healthier and smarter and wiser,” Kress said. “But it also makes them want to protect areas like Yellowstone into the future.”

The Foundation doesn’t fund park maintenance or operations. But it does contribute toward a range of relatively small-scale efforts that help improve public safety and visitor experiences.

Any gift is welcome, Kress said, with even small donations making a big difference, for instance, in helping fund bear-proof food storage boxes or other initiatives.

While there is a long history of wealthy families and foundations making multi-million-dollar gifts to help establish or sustain national parks, the last few decades have seen the start of dozens of “friends” groups aimed at supporting parks across the country.

Groups like the Yellowstone Park Foundation allow anyone to make a meaningful contribution to a favorite park, Kress said.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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