Anderson Design Group Interviews Big Bend Conservancy!
The Terlingua Creek Project, Photo Courtesy of Big Bend National Park
As artists and outdoor enthusiasts, our passion has always been to venture into the 63 American National Parks. There we photograph and document these stunning natural places and share our enthusiasm for America’s natural wonders by creating original, high-quality poster art and National Park art in the style of vintage poster art.
The National Parks were America’s Best Idea in every way possible. They were created to preserve our nation’s natural beauty and cultural history, and each park represents a significant chapter in a story that predates the United States.
To do our part as stewards of the parks, we’re always seeking new opportunities to support the conservancies, associations, foundations, and friend groups that protect the parks. That’s why we recently sat down with Big Bend Conservancy Executive Director and CEO Loren Riemer to learn about the park’s challenges and what Loren’s group is doing to preserve one of America’s most remote National Parks.
Big Bend Conservancy
ADG: What is Big Bend Conservancy? If you have an elevator pitch for what your group does, what would that be?
Loren: Big Bend Conservancy is the philanthropic partner of Big Bend National Park. Our goal and mission is to preserve, enrich, and conserve the unique resources of Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River through philanthropic efforts and partnerships with the National Park Service. We ultimately seek to preserve the natural beauty and unique resources of the park and the river for future generations through harmonious partnerships.
ADG: I understand you do great work with the National Park Service and within Big Bend National Park. Can you tell me about some of the programs and directives your group supports?
Loren: We have a wonderful partnership with the National Park Service on the park level. We have an annual strategic planning session with the park service, and we use that to make sure our mission goals are aligned with the NPS. We are currently working on four main areas, and the NPS is closely involved in these. One is the Terlingua Creek Land Conservation Project. Another is historic preservation work in the Castolon Recovery Project. Third is a broader program we work on each year, enhancing the park’s efforts towards sustainability. Fourth is helping the park with whatever issues they may need from year to year, be it search and rescue, installing bear boxes, invasive grass management, etc. The Park Service asks for help, and we do what we can to supply it.
ADG: How did Big Bend Conservancy get its start? What’s the story behind the birth of your group?
Loren: In 1995, a woman named Lori Palmer – who’d been visiting the park for years – decided the park needed community support as it had no friend group or conservancy. She met with park staff, got together with other enthusiasts, and formed the Big Bend Conservancy with the help of a seed grant of $2,500 from the National Park Foundation. That was the beginning of the group, but we’re proud to say several of the founding board members from 1995 are still active in the group!
ADG: What types of projects does your group work on each year? Do you have conservation activities or efforts in the pipeline you’d like to mention?
Loren: As with all National Parks, we saw a huge spike in visitation during and after Covid. That has had an impact on the park and gateway communities around it. From figuring out what to do with waste in the park to addressing the surge in development in the park’s gateway communities (think pop-up Airbnbs and short-term rentals and whatnot), we’ve been strategizing ways to keep the park safe and wild as more people visit and spend time there.
One example of how we’re doing that is with the Terlingua Creek Project. It’s a legacy project for the Conservancy and a unique opportunity to protect over 6,000 acres and expand the existing footprint of the park. Private lands on Terlingua Creek adjacent and upstream of the Big Bend National Park boundary represent ecologically significant stream segments and the potential for designation as such in the Texas Water Plan. Downstream and inside the park boundary, a rare, permanently flowing reach of creek supports primary natural cottonwood. The private property along Terlingua Creek, particularly the rare creek and riparian habitat at the confluence of Terlingua and Rough Run creeks, are important for ensuring the protection of resources within the current park boundary and supporting and increasing the scope and effectiveness of restoration projects. Loss of the same habitat to inappropriate use or development would degrade rare and critical resources within Big Bend. Working in coordination with private landowners, Big Bend Conservancy is purchasing this property and working with Congress to ensure it becomes part of Big Bend National Park and is protected for generations to come.
ADG: Is your group involved in research projects in and around Big Bend? What would an example of such a research project be? And why are research projects in our parks so important?
Loren: I have a good example of that. Big Bend National Park is one of the few National Parks that still operates a landfill within park boundaries. Over 450 tons of refuse from park visitors, residents, and the Chisos Mountains Lodge and Restaurant are buried yearly. At current rates of use, the park landfill will be full by 2025-2030. There is little desire to expand or renew the landfill within park boundaries. The NPS is actively pursuing environmentally friendly alternatives to reduce and redirect as much trash as possible, and we’re doing everything we can to support that effort. Given the park’s remote nature, that also means gateway and area communities are dealing with significant environmental challenges regarding waste, where to haul it, what to do with it, etc. We’re looking at upgrading on-site recycling facilities, doing waste stream audits, assessing what’s going into the landfill, using composting as a significant offset opportunity, expanding the lifespan of the existing landfill, etc. Most importantly, we’re working towards educating visitors on being more mindful of what they’re leaving behind.
National Park Service Information on Big Bend Landfill, Photo Courtesy of Big Bend Conservancy
ADG: Given the extensive list of projects your group is working on, how do you enlist the community’s help in these projects? Do you organize volunteers? Or how do you otherwise fund your work?
Loren: We’re unique in that because the park is so remote, it’s more challenging to host regular group cleanup days. However, we have a community of donors that are incredibly generous. They are both local and nationwide, and their support is crucial. We have begun organizing National Public Lands Day activities and engaging in outreach projects in larger cities across Texas. Folks interested in volunteering can visit our website for more information on how to become a member or participate in volunteer activities.
Big Bend National Park Volunteers and Enthusiasts, Photo Courtesy of Big Bend Conservancy
ADG: What goes on in the educational side of Big Bend Conservancy? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?
Loren: One of our capstone projects is the Fossil Discovery Center. Big Bend preserves 20 million years of paleontological history, and we’ve put some of that history on display for adults and children alike to learn about and interact with. Once the center was completed, we also set up a perpetual fund to provide maintenance, upgrades, and additions to the site, ensuring that this award-winning, world-class exhibit remains a visitor favorite for years.
The Fossil Discovery Exhibit, Photo Courtesy of Big Bend Conservancy
But that’s just one of our educational programs. We’re also working on a series of visitor preparedness videos. Big Bend is way out there in the desert, and being prepared for the visit is the best way to ensure one will have a joyous experience.
ADG: Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for the Big Bend Conservancy? Where do you guys see yourselves in 5 years? Ten years? What do you hope to be working on a decade from now?
Loren: The Conservancy will support the park in sustainability projects such as solar energy, composting, solid waste reduction, and more. We’re excited about some of our plans for solar. As you can imagine, Big Bend has great potential for solar energy, and we’d like to continue existing solar energy installations in the park as a way of offsetting park buildings’ energy use. Last year, we piloted a solar project by putting panels over a shaded parking area. The results have been great, and there are many opportunities for creating additional solar arrays and using them as backups and energy offsets.
Solar Panel Project in the Works, Photo Courtesy of Big Bend Conservancy
ADG: What do you think about our Big Bend poster art? Anything we should add to our series?
Loren: I have your Balanced Rock poster hanging up at home! We love your work. For future art, we’ve identified three things that people identify with Big Bend. One is black bears. Black bears are quite prevalent in the park. Also, the ocotillo flowers are a big deal. We have “ocotillo forests,” and folks travel to see them. Finally, the park is an incredible dark sky park, which you’ve also shown well in your artwork.
ADG: If there would be one thing about your group or National Park conservation/restoration/education generally that you’d want the broader public to know, what would that be?
Loren: I would say that your capacity to educate yourself about recreating responsibly makes a huge impact. It can be very simple, like using a reusable water bottle, carrying your waste items out of the park, or shopping second-hand for camping and hiking gear you plan to bring to the park. Your impact when you recreate in the parks multiplies when everyone does it, which is what we encourage. The concept of “But I’m just one person” is erroneous because we’ve seen what happens when all those “just one persons” get together and commit to making a difference.
ADG: That’s a great piece of advice to end on, Loren! Thanks for sitting down with us today.
Loren: Thanks for having me!
The Importance of Supporting National Park Associations and Friend Groups
If you represent a National Park Association, Foundation, History Association, Friend Group, or Conservancy that works in any of the 63 American National Parks, contact us today to schedule an interview! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s enjoy these incredible, historic places, and let’s all be a part of efforts towards preserving them for future generations.
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer