Anderson Design Group Interviews Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park!

Anderson Design Group Interviews Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park!

Environmental Education program for teachers conducted at Mammoth Cave National Park, photo courtesy of Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park.

As artists and wilderness explorers, our passion is to venture into the 63 American National Parks, photograph and document these wonderful natural places, and share our enthusiasm for our nation’s natural wonders by creating original, high-quality poster art.

Truly America’s Best Idea, the National Parks were created to preserve our nation’s natural beauty and cultural history. 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.

To raise awareness for the important conservation activities in Mammoth Cave National Park, we took some time this week to sit down with Rachelle Wright, Executive Director of Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park. 

Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park

ADG: What is Friends of Mammoth Cave? If you have an elevator pitch for what your group does, what would that be?

Rachelle: Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park is the primary philanthropic partner for Mammoth Cave National Park. We assist the park in ways that federal monies cannot or with gathering additional money or matches as needed. We highlight the treasure that is Mammoth Cave, the longest-known cave system in the world, a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and an International Dark Sky Park.

Director Sams addresses the Louisville Orchestra Event, photo courtesy of Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park.

ADG: I understand you do a great deal of work with the National Park Service and within Mammoth Cave National Park itself, but your group is also in charge of funding and managing programs and activities outside the park, too, correct? What are some of those programs?

Rachelle: We have developed a partnership with our gateway community convention and visitors bureaus. This group, the Cave Area Coalition, recently attended a Balancing Nature and Commerce Course by the Conservation Fund and has projects slated to begin in 2024.

ADG: How did Friends of Mammoth Cave get its start? What's the story behind the birth of your group?

Rachelle: Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park was spearheaded by a former Park Superintendent in the 80s, inspired by work with the park and the Southeastern Tourism Society.

ADG: What types of projects does your group work on each year? What are some of the projects you’re most proud of?

Rachelle: We work on a variety of projects, but our work with the Environmental Education division and the thousands of children they bring to tour the cave each year is at the heart of what we do. Engaging future rangers and stewards of this place is inspiring. We also help with volunteer clean-ups, special nights on the Park’s schedule, and even smaller projects, like service dog training for the rangers.

Mammoth Cave National Park also hosted the Louisville Orchestra, with world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma for two concerts inside the cave this spring. This was a special once-in-a-lifetime event. Teddy Abrams, the Louisville Orchestra conductor, had been the artist in residence at Mammoth Cave National Park for months prior and composed music for the event inspired by the cave itself. We are thrilled to share that Teddy Abrams has also joined the Friends of Mammoth Cave board this year.

Teddy Abrams and Barclay Trimble, photo courtesy of Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park.

Mammoth Cave April 29 Performance, photo by Jon Cherry.

Mammoth Cave April 29 Performance, photo by Jon Cherry.

We also assist with content creation that highlights the park. It is important to us that visitors know there is a wealth of resources to enjoy above and below the ground. Mammoth Cave encompasses 54,000 acres and includes Kentucky’s first and only National Water Trail.

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?

Rachelle: We do not organize volunteers, but we work closely with the volunteer coordinator at Mammoth Cave National Park.

ADG: What goes on in the educational side of Friends of Mammoth Cave? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?

Rachelle: We help support opportunities for field trips and teacher workshops with Mammoth Cave National Park’s Environmental Education division through grants and fundraising. Our Environmental Education program reaches around 56,000 students annually through in-park, classroom, and virtual programs. There are also thousands more who the rangers work with directly in the schools. Since so much of Kentucky is in the disadvantaged Appalachian Region, these monies help provide important opportunities for youth in our area.

Ranger Rager with Barren County campers at trailhead, photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

ADG: Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for Friends of Mammoth Cave? Where do you guys see yourselves in 5 years? Ten years? What do you hope to be working on a decade from now?

Rachelle: Our most important goal is to build a community of people who are endeared to Mammoth Cave National Park. After generations of Cave Wars and regional rivalries, the continuation of this community building is important to us all. In the next five years, we hope to grow this community base, and ten years down the road, we hope to be able to fund any project the Park needs or can dream up.

Students explore the cave system, photo courtesy of Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park.

ADG: You’ve seen our art of Mammoth Cave. Are there any other angles or approaches to Mammoth Cave you’d like to see art of? How could we best capture the park in our art?

Rachelle: Your art is especially well representative of Mammoth Cave National Park. After years of working closely with the cave community, we realize that capturing the feel of a cave in art or photography is no small task. Other ideas might be to do a likeness of the historic entrance or Fat Man’s Squeeze. They both have many levels of depth that could be captured to give the feel of immersing yourself in the Cave.

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?

Rachelle: It is important to us that people understand that Mammoth Cave is not an isolated underground bunker. It is a living habitat connected to the above-ground environment. It also boasts miles of hiking trails, biking trails, paddling trails, and camping opportunities for a full immersion experience – above and below ground. We invite you to come and tour the longest-known cave in the world, paddle one of the most biodiverse rivers in the nation, and discover why this land was declared special enough to be set aside for generations to come.

ADG: That sounds great, Rachelle. Thanks for chatting with us today!

Rachelle: Thanks for having me!

The Importance of Supporting National Park Associations and Friend Groups

You can learn more about Friends of Mammoth Cave National Park at their website. You can become a member to support their work in perpetuity.

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

In the meantime, we’ll get back to creating vintage poster art for Mammoth Cave National Park and other National Parks. Let’s enjoy these beautiful, historic places and do our part to preserve them for future generations.

-Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer

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