Next Generation Fund
The future of our national parks lies in our young people, and education is a key component in ensuring that these valuable lands are protected.
The Next Generation Fund promises to expand a host of well-tested educational programs for Rocky Mountain National Park, cultivating the next generation as future stewards of our public lands. It has established a mandate for creativity and innovative programs, including the Junior Ranger program, Rocky Mountain National Park Environmental Education, Rocky Mountain Field Seminars and the American Conservation Corps.
Public lands stewardship is a task we’ve inherited, and its success depends on the Next Generation. Protection and preservation of these valuable places will only happen if we make a strong commitment to conservation education today.
Since 1931 the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Nature Association has supported Rocky Mountain National Park’s educational programs. Each year sizeable contributions are made to initiatives intended for young people, such as the Junior Ranger program, special publications, and environmental education. Over the last four years, the innovative American Conservation Corps program has been very successful, along with children’s classes sponsored by Rocky Mountain Field Seminars. Numerous research fellowships and work-related internships have been granted.
These programs for young people are accomplished in partnership with the National Park Service, augmenting dozens of excellent interpretive presentations of ranger-naturalists. All of these programs are worthy of continuation. Many should be expanded. Yet new initiatives should be encouraged. But for the foreseeable future, education for children and young adults will be limited both by lack of funds and by the limited outreach to young people who experience the park first hand.
In helping students understand nature, the park’s well-established environmental education program enchants six thousand school children annually. But the majority of young people entering the park arrive as visitors, simply arriving with their families. Today they find a limited array of programs designed for a young audience.
What is missing in Rocky Mountain National Park is a sustained and sustainable long-term effort to nurture an interest in nature among young people. What the future demands is innovation. What addresses this need is a firm financial footing to allow the expansion of educational and experiential programs. Someday we will entrust our natural heritage to these younger hands. So it is our duty to impress the ideals of parks and preservation and the legacy of scenic and wild places upon the next generation.
The Next Generation Fund does not offer a silver-bullet solution; instead it promises to expand a host of well-tested programs, while establishing a mandate for creativity and new programs in the future. In the long run, the stewardship of parks cannot rely on stories from past to breed future success. Stewardship is a task we’ve inherited. Stewardship depends on the Next Generation.
National parks have always been regarded as classrooms. Some people refer to them as "universities without walls." We do not need to dredge quotes from the past, going back to Emerson or Thoreau, to convince people today that lessons learned from nature are fundamental--as rich as life itself.
Today most people appreciate the educational values afforded by public lands. But education is only one of many attractions. A simple case for support can only state the obvious: Nature teaches lessons impossible to present in classrooms or computers.
Perhaps the best reason to support education and natural places can be found in a recently published book by Richard Louv entitled Last Child in the Woods. It is hard to disagree with Louv’s thesis. He argues that children today are living in an urbanized environment, filled with virtual reality. They suffer a disconnect with nature.
Perhaps Richard Louv’s book overstates the problem. But what if he’s right? What if future generations decide that national parks are no longer relevant, nothing to protect, but rather something to despoil? Who will stand up for the cause of conservation? Those of us who’ve spent lifetimes committed to preservation and enjoyment of our national parks and forests can perform a simple duty of stewardship by educating coming generations. Just as previous generations left us a legacy of protected lands, we have an opportunity to leave a legacy of education.
Over a decade ago a fellow named Leslie Fidel Bailey wheeled his wheelchair into my office. He was very direct-almost blunt. He was in the midst of facing the final illness of his life. He said he loved the national parks and before he died he had decided he wanted to help them.
He explained that all of his life he considered the well-known conservationist John Muir one of the greatest heroes of parks and preservation. The country needs more John Muirs, Bailey argued, and others like him who not only know the land well but will speak up for its welfare. He decided that he could help nurture the next generation of conservationists, park or forest leaders. He established an endowment fund, known today as the Bailey Fellowship, enabling young scholars to conduct research in the park.
Of course not every young scholar becomes a John Muir. John Muir was one of a kind. But introducing young people to the park for a day, a month, or a summer can sometimes change a life. Or perhaps help decide a major in college or even a career.
There’s no question that Mr. Bailey’s fellowship has been successful. We know that time spent in Rocky Mountain National Park has been well spent; only time will tell whether we’ve created any remarkable conservationists. But in addition to John Muirs, we also need more Leslie Fidel Baileys. We need people who can peer into the future and realize that their legacy of endowments will create the leaders, the visionaries, and the conservationists of the future.
Park or forest leaders of the future are not likely to be created by a fellowship here or scholarships there. No single lesson, no special event is guaranteed to generate the park planners and superintendents of tomorrow, the rangers and the naturalists, or even the citizen-advocates or nonprofit leaders. Instead, they will be created by a host of experiences: hikes and picnics; campfire talks and puppet programs; serious study to simply sitting still beside a stream. They are created by parents who take their kids to parks. They are created by grandparents who take them for strolls in the forest. They are created by everyday folks who care enough to share their love of the outdoors.
To borrow a familiar phrase, it may take a mountain to raise a child. There they may consider the importance of conservation. For when all is said and done, if they actually become stewards of parks, forests and mountains, we’ll declare a victory for the outdoors and give credit to education. Even if they decide upon other professions, we’re sure that memories of their mountain days will make them messengers of conservation.
HISTORY AND MISSION:
Established in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was an immediate success, attracting some 50,000 visitors its first year of operation. The following year Congress created the National Park Service, providing uniform management standards throughout the expanding National Park System. In the decades that followed, educational programs and exhibits helped park visitors appreciate the parks and enjoy their wonders.
Recognizing that educational tasks were larger than the government could ever accomplish, in 1931 naturalist Dorr Yeager organized the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, dedicated to "unite the energy, interests and knowledge of the students, explorers, and lovers of Rocky Mountain National Park; to collect and disseminate information regarding the region in behalf of science, literature and recreation; to stimulate public interest in our mountain area; to encourage and preserve forests, flowers, fauna and natural scenery; and to render accessible the alpine attractions of this region."
For 54 years the Association was guided by the National Park Service. In 1985 the organization charted its independent future, led by a Board of Directors. At the same time an ambitious course of philanthropic activity began, also expanding the Association’s mission. Always viewing its educational purpose as fundamental, the Association extended its services to nearby national forests, state parks, and monuments.
From 1986 until 2005 it operated in tandem with a nonprofit fund raising partner, the Rocky Mountain National Park Associates. After completing forty-two special projects, the Associates merged with the Nature Association in 2005.
On December 5, 2005, the Association’s Board of Directors adopted revised Articles of Incorporation and established a new Mission:
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATURE ASSOCIATION promotes the understanding of Rocky Mountain National Park and similar public lands through interpretive or educational publications and programs; advances stewardship through philanthropy for Rocky Mountain National Park and similar public lands; protects, restores, maintains and preserves land and historic sites in Rocky Mountain National Park and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain West, and may, in furtherance of such mission, conduct any lawful activity.
Today we carry forward the philanthropic endeavors and heritage of the Associates--now called the Rocky Mountain National Park Fund within the Nature Association. In addition to land protection, historical preservation, and capital construction, its philanthropic goals include publishing and educational programs as well as endowment development. The Nature Association boasts a membership of some 3,000 individuals and families. Another 10,000 people are also counted as contributors.
Through publication sales, the Association educates park and forest visitors. Its highly regarded Rocky Mountain Field Seminar program has operated since 1962. The Association also produces award-winning publications. It offers interpretive sales at some 65 visitor centers, ranger stations, and government offices throughout Colorado and Wyoming, with Rocky Mountain National Park remaining its home base. Profits from book sales are also used to enhance park and forest educational programs.