Fashion helps national parks stay open and functional

If the isolation imposed by the pandemic has done anything, it has pushed more people outside. According to internal statistics, the National Park Service welcomed 297 million visitors in 2021, an increase of 60 million visits, or a 25% increase from 2020. The relaxation of COVID-19 protocols has allowed facilities park more open, and the outdoors called people. who are stuck inside.

While this is a positive increase in revenue for National Parks, the numbers are now approaching the 2014-2015 run to the NPS Centennial in 2016, increased utilization and continued labor shortages. make it difficult to maintain park conditions and programs. With a backlog of over a billion dollars in needed repairs, the National Park Service needs additional help to preserve and maintain some of our most sacred destinations. Fortunately, non-profit groups have filled the void to maintain these national parks and ensure their present and future existence. And as well as encouraging volunteers and youth participation, the result includes some pretty sweet fashion.

Parks project.

Since 2014, the non-profit organization Parks Project has implemented a three-pillar approach to preserving these natural treasures: fundraising, facilitating and participating in grassroots volunteer efforts, and supporting efforts to engage local people. young people in national parks.

Collaborative projects with artists, designers, parks and outdoor organizations have resulted in stylish, high-quality colorblock fleece jackets, cozy mushroom print beanies and park-inspired merchandise to show off your favorite national park. Revenue from merchandise sales and charitable donations has grown from a thousand dollars in 2014 to cross the $2,000,000 mark in 2021. Each purchase not only funds Parks Project donations to park maintenance nationally, but it also funnels money into Junior Ranger programs, heritage education, trail maintenance, habitat protection, and more.

“We’re taking a very wholesome approach through financial contributions, physical effort, and a change of mind,” Parks Project co-founder Keith Eshelman said in an interview. “It may be a bit under the radar, but education and advocacy is an important part of it and, in the long run, should have the biggest impact.”

Inspiration struck Eshelman in 2014 while planning a hike in Big Sur with her daughter, Beverley. Seeking to take full advantage of paternity leave, Eshelman traveled to Big Sur to take a hike he had done many times as a Bay Area native. However, the trail he usually walked was closed.

“That was my moment years ago: I realized it might not be available for my daughter, so it quickly led me to volunteering and doing some trail work. It’s spawned a whole deep dive into education and an effort to bring in people who also have that passion and physically support them for volunteer work,” Eshelman said.

This spawned projects across California and soon in the United States. Eshelman and co-founder Sevag Kazanci took an entrepreneurial approach to Parks Project. It started with birthing an idea, connecting with national and state parks on specific projects and the assistance they were looking for, then getting out into the field to physically help and asking for help with a tireless spirit.

“Unless you get into the trenches, you don’t know how you’re going to get there,” Eshelman said. “That’s one of the benefits of bootstrapping: being able to decide how we’re going to make the product, design the product, how we market it, and how we manage the relationships.”

A model, seen from behind, wears a "For a good time, call Parks," Parks Project t-shirt watching ducks in a pond.
Parks project.

Through the efforts of a staff that has grown from two to 22 over the past eight years, Parks Project has been able to spark love for these outdoor spaces through specific project-based work, instead of just cutting a check. to parks.

“That’s why we have a variety of park projects and why this organization is so unique,” Eshelman said. “We physically go to the parks and ask what they need.”

This means helping the Yellowstone Cougar Conservation Program by taking a wildlife documentary video, removing non-native species from Yosemite Valley, and instituting Parks Projects’ first junior ranger program in Zion National Park.

“Investing in the next generation is so huge,” Eshelman said. “That’s what Gen Z is asking for: how to roll up our sleeves and cultivate a call to action.”

While getting people to answer that call may take time, it pays off in positive and often funky ways. It took organizers three years to apply, but they were finally able to connect with the Grateful Dead on a line in partnership with the Sierra Club.

This year, Parks Project is expanding its presence in the Pacific Northwest with the addition of new athletic apparel options celebrating the centennial anniversary of Oregon State Parks, along with Madewell apparel and l artist Sabrena Khadija.

As these products sell online, Park Projects will continue to encourage boots in the field and engage a future generation in the best way possible: by getting involved and making things work.

“There’s no playbook. If there was, everyone would be doing it,” Eshelman said. “It all comes down to your unique mission: does it resonate? Do people connect with it? How do you distribute this and get the message across?”

In every way possible, Parks Project plans to continue to rally the voices, enthusiasm, and participation of younger generations to foster a growing audience interested in preserving America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty today and for future generations.

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About Irene J. O'Donnell

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