How It All Started…
To understand Western National Parks Association’s (WNPA) Aid to Parks program, let’s travel back to the 1930s. The Dust Bowl. President Roosevelt’s New Deal assists millions of Americans as the Great Depression creeps to a close. The era produces monumental achievements, such as the Hoover Dam, Empire State Building, and Golden Gate Bridge. Meanwhile, the National Park Service (NPS) is twenty-two years old and growing up fast.
It is during these formative years that the NPS discovers a distinct gap in the National Park System: a limited capacity to create interpretive materials. Budgetary limitations preclude the NPS from creating interpretive materials (signage, books, etc.) for visitors to better understand the parks and their social, scientific, and historical significance.
In 1936, Congress establishes agreements with cooperating associations to help perform these interpretive functions. Current NPS definition per Director’s Order #32: A cooperating association is defined as a private nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation established under state law, with which the NPS has a signed standard cooperating agreement.
In the 1930s, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument staff frequently gathers in Superintendent Frank “Boss” Pinkley’s garden after work to discuss improvements and innovations. During these informal sessions, junior park naturalist Dale King persuades the Boss to support efforts to establish a cooperating association. Initially, Pinkley is reluctant, but King perseveres and insists that they can better serve the public with an association by offering interpretive publications.
King’s argument is compelling, Pinkley throws in his support for a cooperating association, and Southwest Monuments Association (SWMA, the precursor to Southwest Parks & Monuments Association (SPMA), which was the precursor to WNPA) is established (with $234.50 in start-up contributions) at Casa Grande Ruins, serving eighteen remote park units. SWMA will eventually blossom into WNPA.
Fulfilling the mission of our founders, WNPA now operates eighty-one park stores, supporting seventy-one National Park Service partners across twelve western states. Today, WNPA helps the NPS educate and connect visitors to the nature, history, culture, and recreation in our partner parks. We do this primarily by operating park stores and developing educational products that tell the parks’ stories. As a cooperating association, WNPA works closely with the NPS, follows NPS Director’s Order #32 (DO-32), and supports national parks directly with cash aid and indirectly with staff, sales, and organizational support.
A portion of the proceeds from all sales go back to the parks to help them tell their stories.
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