As artists and outdoor enthusiasts, we love exploring the American National Parks, photographing and documenting them, and sharing our enthusiasm by creating original, high-quality poster art.
One of the most important features of the parks is their timeless nature. We must preserve their past, present, and future so the next generation can learn about these unique natural places. That’s why we also like to support the dozens of conservation groups that protect the parks.
One fun way to show our support is by interviewing representatives of conservation groups. This way, we can get the word out about their efforts and share interesting behind-the-scenes information on their campaigns to preserve our National Parks.
This week we sat down with Katie Johnston, Executive Director of Badlands Natural History Association. Read on to learn more about Badlands National Park and what Katie’s group is doing to preserve this national treasure!
Protecting the Badlands Through Education, Conservation, and Research
ADG: “What is the Badlands Natural History Association? If you have an elevator pitch for what your group does, what would that be?”
Katie: “BNHA is a non-profit partner for Badlands National Park. We assist the park in its educational, interpretive, historical, and scientific aspects. Our membership slogan is 'Help us do good things for the Badlands!'”
ADG: “Love that! Your group is also in charge of funding and managing programs and activities outside the park too, correct? What are some of those programs?”
Katie: “In the past we have helped with the National Grasslands and Forest Service locations in our area, and Niobrara Natl. Scenic River, in Nebraska. We aren’t limited to helping just Badlands National Park if there is a need nearby. Per our mission, we can help many other agencies if they have a contract with us and fit the scope.”
ADG: “That's great to hear! And how did Badlands Natural History Association get its start? What’s the story behind the birth of your group?”
Katie: “BNHA was started in 1959 after branching on its own from the Black Hills Parks and Forests Association. My grandmother Midge Johnston, was the first manager/Executive Director when it started. She retired in 2007 after nearly 40 years, and I’ve been here in that position since. I started seasonally in 2002 helping with the park service and association during the summers. We have some great summer and seasonal staff that help us out. We are so lucky to have a board of 7 to 9 individuals who care so much about the Badlands area and make sure that all of our funding goes to worthy programs and projects. All of us just want to see the park do well.”
(Pictured above: BNHA board president Sam Benne announcing pledge of $1.8 million for future visitor center).
ADG: “Makes sense! What projects does your group work on each year? What are some of the campaigns you're most proud of?”
Katie: “Our projects vary year-to-year based on what the park needs at the moment. There are certain staples that our visiting public has great interest in such as the Badlands Night Sky and Astronomy programs, and our park paleontology lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. We are also proud to support park volunteers. They keep us all going and we couldn’t function without them. We're also helping with wildlife and vegetation crews and equipment and youth conservation crews. In the past year we pledged our greatest single donation of $1.8 million toward a new future visitor center!”
ADG: “Congratulations! And I understand your group helps fund and manage research projects. What would an example of such a research project be? And why are research projects in our National Parks so important?”
Katie: “Yes, you are correct. One of the most important things we can support is research and science in this area. The Badlands are so rich in fossil history, human history, wildlife, and we need researchers for the future of this area too. It is a constantly evolving area. If BNHA can help with specialized groups and individuals that are interested in helping us understand it all, it’s a win-win. One of the projects I’ve had the most fun watching is the re-introduction of the endangered black-footed ferret to this area and what our wildlife crews must do to help them. They are nocturnal, so it can be hard sometimes to actually see them, but they are one of North America’s most endangered mammals. Anything we can do to help them is important.”
(Pictured above: Research being done in the paleontology lab).
ADG: “I remember reading about the black-footed ferret when I was in the park in 2021! Clearly your efforts are garnering a result! And given the extensive list of projects your group is working on, how do you enlist the help of the community in these projects? Do you organize volunteers? Or how do you otherwise fund your work?”
Katie: “Our neighboring communities do great advertising for our park programs. The BNHA board members come down and help us with special events, and we do have volunteers to help with night sky programs and daily ranger programs. Our work is funded through memberships to BNHA, donations, website sales, and our store located in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.”
(Pictured above: Badlands Night Sky Program).
ADG: “Very cool. And what goes on in the educational side of Badlands Natural History Association? I noticed your team helps get books about the Badlands out into the public. What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?”
Katie: “Yes, we do help support the park with some of our own publications. They range from specialized geology charts to children’s books to road guides. We try to fill in the gap where information is requested and needed. One of the biggest park programs that we have helped with is the Junior Ranger Program. It is very popular in many National Parks. In the past, we’ve helped support the booklets and materials needed for those programs and our BNHA staff has helped lead park programs too. We also help with equipment for distance learning programs. This is so fun to see because park rangers are able to teach educational programs to students locally and all over the world. Most of them LOVE the fossils.”
(Pictured above: Executive Director Katie Johnston giving a presentation on traditional uses of bison to elementary students in Brookings, SD).
ADG: “That's incredible! Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for Badlands Natural History Association? Where do you guys see yourselves in 5 years? 10 years? What do you hope to be working on a decade from now?”
Katie: “Our short term goals would be to work on making it easier to hire staff for our ever-growing business. We will be installing RV pads in a nearby town to help with that. In 5 years, I hope we are in a new visitor center that has much more space for the visiting public and our staff. I would also like to see BNHA help more with staffing overnight camping adventures and specialized tours into the park. I'd like to see permanent shade structures put in on some of our most open trails where there are no trees and shade is lacking. I would also like to see if we can help with a shuttle for the park from trailheads to overlooks and other common areas, to improve accessibility.”
ADG: “That's great to hear. So many plans in the works! And what do you think about our Badlands poster art? Any designs we should add to our series?”
Katie: “We love the artwork Anderson Design group comes up with. When we need something fresh, it’s always there. Your images are included on many products in our store and they are our best sellers. My new favorite is the Vulture Peak image that includes the bighorn sheep. They are among the most popular animals in the park. I did have to giggle a bit when I saw the Banshee image. I grew up here and have never heard of Watch Dog Butte or the banshee. But I was recently asked about it from someone who is doing a story on legends in the area. My grandmother had never heard of it either. I think one of the great things about your art is that it brings up nostalgic memories for some, but it intrigues many who haven’t been here yet, so they want to come and visit.”
ADG: “Thanks for that feedback! We're having a blast exploring both the real nature and the sort of "mythical" nature of the parks lately. One last question, if there was one thing about your group or about National Park conservation/restoration/education generally that you’d want the broader public to know, what would that be?”
Katie: “I would like to encourage those who visit National Parks to make it a point to support those of us with missions to preserve and enhance the park for your visit and for future generations. We sure appreciate the support.”
ADG: “Well groups like yours are certainly worth supporting, Katie! Thanks for sitting down with us today.”
Katie: “Thanks for the opportunity!”
National Park Natural History Associations, Groups Worth Supporting
You can find Badlands Natural History Association at: badlandsnha.org. Their Contact Page lists methods of getting in touch with the group, and their Membership Page and Shop Page offer a variety of ways you can support the organization’s efforts to preserve Badlands National Park.
If you represent a Natural History Association, Friend Group, Conservancy, or Preservation Association that works in the National Parks, contact us today to set up an interview! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And in the meantime, we’ll be creating new designs and illustrations of Badlands National Park and other American National Parks. Enjoy these wonderful places and let's do our part to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer