10/28/2014 10:33 am ET Updated Dec 28, 2014

The Role of Corporate Partners in National Park Philanthropy

I am often asked what my thoughts are on philanthropy's role in helping to protect and preserve our national parks. It is a fair question and I feel strongly about the answer. Philanthropy, in all forms, is essential to the existence and future of America's national parks.

From its inception, the National Park System has benefited from private support, often from the corporate community. Many of the earliest national parks, including Glacier and Grand Canyon, were the direct beneficiaries of the transcontinental railroad companies, which helped design, build, and provide much needed visitor services in the parks. This tradition of generous, committed philanthropy continues today and is critical to the success and longevity of our national parks.

The steady decline in federal funding has been felt acutely system-wide, with impacts to visitor services, resource protection, and infrastructure maintenance. The National Park Service faces additional budget cuts that threaten the great progress of this extraordinary agency and our nation's most prized natural, historical, and cultural possessions. As the threats and demands facing our parks grow, so does the need for private funding.

As the only national nonprofit partner to the National Park Service, and the official charity of America's national parks, the National Park Foundation plays a vital role in supporting America's 401 national parks at the times and in the ways they need it most. Thanks to philanthropy, the National Park Foundation helps to protect more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts, connect all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history, and inspire the next century of park stewards who will safeguard these special places for generations to come.

Corporate philanthropic support is a long-standing tradition in the parks. Since its beginning, the National Park Foundation has been equally concerned about preserving the integrity of America's national parks. To ensure these majestic places are not compromised, we follow a strict set of guidelines regulating advertising and commercialism. You can find these guidelines outlined in the National Park Service's Management Policies.

We also enact and revise National Park Foundation policy to address the evolving corporate environment and legal jurisdictions. These policies are decided upon and consistently reviewed by the National Park Service to ensure that laws and regulations are followed. In the interest of transparency, we make all of the National Park Foundation's financial information available to the public, complying with governmental audits and filing our Form 990 with organizations such as GuideStar. In August 2014, we earned the Gold participation level through GuideStar, a testament to the National Park Foundation's commitment to the integrity of the National Park System.

As we approach the Centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, I am energized by the opportunities for public-private partnerships to further bolster America's national parks. Even with an extremely tight federal budget, through these strategic partnerships, our national parks will be able to realize tremendous improvements and innovative programming that enhances and sustains the National Park Service's margin of excellence. By focusing our efforts and aligning our existing resources, we will provide visitors with a more meaningful and enriching park experience.

Through thoughtful collaboration, corporate philanthropy can be an extremely beneficial relationship for both parks and their committed partners. Many of the national parks and programs that exist today would not be possible without corporate funding. Public-private partnerships support innovative education programs, preservation and conservation work, increased efficiency in park transportation, trail restoration (the National Park Service maintains 18,000 miles of trails), enhanced community engagement, capacity building, and more.

Corporate partners are uniquely positioned to leverage major resources to improve parks and ensure they're not just protected, but enriched well into the future. Thoughtful corporate philanthropy is more than a source of funding for America's national parks: It is a cornerstone of their origins and key to their next 100 years.