January 19, 2023 5 min read
Born and raised in Seattle, HEST has a deep passion for the state of Washington's beauty. Some of the most breathtaking views in our beautiful state reside in Washington's National Parks. Here at HEST, we are proud to be partnered with Washington's National Park Fund (WNPF) whose mission is to raise private support to preserve and protect Washington’s national parks.
We had the honor to interview Laurie Ward, CEO of Washington’s National Park Fund, about her thoughts on WNPF and what the fight for conservation truly means.
Can you explain your role within WNPF and your journey of joining the organization?
As the Chief Executive Officer at Washington’s National Park Fund, my role is to provide strategic leadership and oversee day-to-day operations. It’s important that the organization remains fiscally responsible and transparent to all key stakeholders, and that’s a responsibility I hold dear. I’m fortunate to work closely with the board of directors, as well as park superintendents, corporate leadership, and loyal donors, in service to our vision that Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks stay strong and vibrant, youthful and everlasting.
I am passionate about nonprofit management, and before coming to Washington’s National Park Fund, I served as director of development and communications at The Mountaineers. I am proud to say that I led that organization’s transition from a 501(c)4 to a 501(c)3, established a planned giving program and increased corporate giving while continuing successful major and annual fund giving. I have also served as a nonprofit consultant for groups like the Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Clubs and Ronald McDonald House.
I love the outdoors and Washington’s National Parks are places where I love to spend time. I am thrilled that my career has led me to be able to spend the last thirteen years in support of these wonderful resources.
What does WNPF mean to you?
Washington’s National Park Fund is the official philanthropic partner to Washington state’s three largest national parks: Mount Rainer, North Cascades, and Olympic. Our job is to raise private support to preserve and protect these national parks by funding scientific research, youth and family experiences, and projects that will keep these parks strong and vital now and forever, for everyone.
To me, Washington’s National Park Fund is how I can give back to the national parks that have given so much to me over the years. The mission is incredibly close to my heart and I’m so proud of the work that our team has put in, providing nearly $7 million in funding to the three parks over the last decade. None of this would be possible without countless individual donors in our community, as well as valued corporate partners like HEST.
Any exciting stuff in the works? / Anything you in particular are proud of that WNPF has accomplished recently?
Every year, we see more and more people step up to give back to the parks and once again, our donors set a new fundraising record. This year, Washington’s National Park Fund gave over $1.1 million to support 42 different park projects and programs, from trail maintenance to meadow restoration, glacier research, and everything in between.
Last year, Washington’s National Park Fund adopted Embracing Inclusion as one of our “core four” project priority areas to reflect our commitment to supporting Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks in providing more services, more programs, and more support to those who face challenges accessing park experiences. These national parks belong to everyone, and everyone deserves the opportunity to experience them. Projects within this category aim to promote access by underrepresented and historically marginalized communities, including creating new employment opportunities and increasing tribal engagement in the parks.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for WNPF in the near future?
The reality is, the National Park Service budget hasn’t kept pace with the parks’ needs even as the national parks are facing more challenges. Extreme weather is damaging park roads, buildings, and trails. Growing crowds are resulting in park staff being looked at to do more with less. Some projects and programs don’t get the funding they need because the parks’ budgets must cover infrastructure and maintenance in the parks, salaries for park rangers, and other urgent needs each year.
With the passing of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, the federal government is providing long-overdue resources to support some infrastructure needs and deferred maintenance in some parks. This influx of support is essential for the health of the park system as a whole, but it isn’t nearly enough to ensure each unique park thrives. That’s where Washington’s National Park Fund comes in.
I would say our biggest challenge as we move forward in helping our park partners respond to the challenges of today is getting the word out that these national parks are experiencing critical needs – many unfunded projects and stresses such as natural disasters and staff housing issues--that and that everybody can play a role in providing for those unmet needs.
Why focus on National Parks?
Here in Washington state, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks offer a glimpse of true wilderness and the opportunity to experience incredibly diverse ecosystems. Whether you’re standing in the shadows of towering, ancient mountains, in the mist of a muted rainforest, or the whipping wind of a beguiling coastline, these places are wilder than most, and sacred to many. They are links to this region’s past, and our hope for its future. But if we want to see them thriving in decades to come, then caring for them is our responsibility here and now.
Which is your favorite Washington Park and why?
This is a hard question, like asking if you have a favorite child! The truth is, I love all three parks for different reasons. Mount Rainier, “The Mountain,” is the iconic alpine experience. You just can’t find meadows like the ones in Paradise anywhere else. But if I’m seeking true solitude, the North Cascades is where you’ll find me. It’s such a remote park, and the glaciated peaks that go on seemingly forever always take my breath away. And on the other end of the spectrum, Olympic offers varied landscapes, hikes of all difficulty levels, and magnificent coast and marine diversity, so I head there when I’m craving a little taste of several Washington ecosystems in one day trip.
How does WNPF support the parks?
Washington’s National Park Fund works closely with the superintendent and staff at each park, who determine the priority projects most in need of philanthropic support. Projects fall into four core areas: advancing science and research, improving visitors’ experiences, expanding volunteerism and stewardship, and embracing inclusion. We then turn to our community to raise funds from thousands of individual, corporate, and foundation supporters.
The funds we raise enable anywhere from 30 to 40 projects annually in Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National parks. We are the only philanthropic organization dedicated solely to these national parks, and over the years we have supported the purchase of critical search and rescue equipment, countless miles of trail maintenance, wildlife studies, meadow restoration teams, the removal of invasive species, shrinking glacier studies, and many other projects.
Beyond donating to WPNF, what other actions can individuals take to support Washington’s National parks?
There are lots of ways to give back to the parks! When you purchase a Washington National Park license plate, $28 is donated to benefit the parks. Or, consider purchasing apparel or other items from one of our cause marketing or lodging partners – who provide support for the parks.
Events more your thing? Be sure to save the date for our annual Auction for the Parks, taking place this year on Saturday, May 6, 2023 in Seattle.
You can learn more about WPNF or donate to their cause here.