As artists and outdoor enthusiasts, our passion is to explore the 63 American National Parks, photograph and document them and share our enthusiasm for the parks by creating original, high-quality poster art.
One of the most important features of the parks is the timeless nature and historical, cultural, and natural significance the parks embody. Because we must preserve the parks so future generations can learn about these unique natural places, we also like to support the dozens of conservation groups protecting the parks.
To help raise awareness for the organizations working hard every day to support the parks, we took some time this week to sit down with Ryan McClure, Executive Director of Gateway Arch Park Foundation. Read on to learn more about Gateway Arch National Park and the great projects Ryan’s group is involved with to keep Gateway Arch the iconic and instantly recognizable landmark that it is.
Gateway Arch Park Foundation
ADG: “Great to have you with us, Ryan! Let me start by asking, what is the Gateway Arch Park Foundation? If you have an elevator pitch for what your group does, what would that be?”
Ryan: “Happy to be here! The Gateway Arch Park Foundation was established in 2009 as the official philanthropic partner of Gateway Arch National Park. Our mission is to create a welcoming, vital, and well-supported environment for future generations to enjoy Gateway Arch.”
ADG: “Fantastic! Is your group also in charge of programs and activities outside the park? How else does your group interact with the community?”
Ryan: “We are incredibly lucky in St. Louis to have a National Park in the middle of downtown. It’s a structure that undeniably represents our city to the entire world. The Arch means a lot to the community, which means we end up doing a lot with the community inside and outside the park. For example, renovations to the park and the Arch that we organized over the last few years entailed us going out into the city to interact with different communities, city planners, our partners at the National Park Service, philanthropic individuals, and community leaders. Just to show you how much the community cares about this park, the community of St. Louis all but single-handedly funded the $380 million renovation and restoration project that went right into the park and surrounding areas. But to answer your question, there are numerous public spaces that we work in beyond just the Arch itself, like the City Park River Project, Kiener Plaza, the Old Courthouse, the green spaces surrounding the Arch, the Museum, visitor center, and riverfront. The Arch is definitely the centerpiece, but we also work in and around all the other aspects of downtown that support that centerpiece.”
ADG: “That’s incredible! How did the Gateway Arch Park Foundation get its start?”
Ryan: “Gateway Arch Park Foundation was born out of a shared desire by city officials, philanthropic residents, and the community to come together and address some of the unique challenges faced by the Arch. There were lots of infrastructure barriers that made it difficult for community members to enjoy the park. For example, a major highway separated the Arch from downtown St. Louis. The Arch was almost like an island for a while. Even though it was built in 1963 and was designed to withstand tornadoes and earthquakes, the Arch was becoming neglected. Visitor numbers were declining, and we wanted to revitalize the project. We also wanted to update the storytelling around the Arch, what it symbolizes historically (westward expansion and colonialism), and how it connects to the heart and soul of the city. There were so many interwoven and complex challenges to address that the St. Louis mayor at the time and our founding chairman got together and made a big effort to revitalize the park by founding the Gateway Arch Park Foundation."
ADG: “Sounds like there was definitely a need for help and hard work and you guys met the moment! Since your launch, what projects has your group worked on? What are some of the projects you’re most proud of?”
Ryan: “Well, to start, Gateway Arch Park Foundation was integral in commemorating the park as a National Park. We worked side-by-side with a Congressional Delegation to get the park designated as a National Park in 2018. We also come up with new ways to support the park every year. We fund the maintenance and upkeep of the Museum at the Gateway Arch which is a world-class museum. We also fund educational programs at the Arch. We support the landscape renewal in and around the park, and we arrange for free community programming of dozens of events throughout the year, like the popular blues music fest or the winter festival, various holiday-season traditions in the park, a Health and Wellness series in the summer, and so on. We also co-manage the volunteer program, which is super important because volunteer opportunities give community members first-hand experience with supporting a local icon that is so important to St. Louis residents.”
ADG: “That’s amazing. Never a dull moment! And I understand your group helps fund and manage research, preservation, and cleanup projects too, correct? What would an example of such a project be?”
Ryan: “Oh for sure. Well, a good example of a really important project we’re working on right now is the full renovation and restoration of the Old Courthouse. The Old Courthouse is part of the National Park, and it’s super important to the city and the country. The Dred and Harriet Scott Case was decided there; it’s a 150-year-old building. It’s about to go through its second major renovation, which has been partially funded and organized by the Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service. It’s going to be a two year project, we’re putting in an elevator for the first time and adding ramps, giving the old structure better accessibility. We’re also improving the building’s infrastructure, HVAC, fire suppression, and more."
ADG: “Given the extensive list of projects your group is working on, how do you enlist the help of the community in these projects? How do you organize volunteers?”
Ryan: “We host numerous volunteer events throughout the year. For National Public Lands Day, we’re doing a Riverfront Cleanup. We get the word out within the community about the event, organize the volunteers, train and equip them, and then manage and implement the cleanup. And the river cleanups are not just a once-per-year thing. We’ll do several of those per year. We also host volunteer projects to maintain and improve walking and bike paths.
ADG: “Sounds like fun! And what goes on in the educational side of Gateway Arch Park Foundation? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?”
Ryan: “We host several such events, and they’re really popular with the kids. For example, we host a Monarch butterfly migration event. We call is the “Mon-Arch” event. (See what we did there?) In this event we study the butterfly and share facts about Monarch migration. We also have a “Bark Ranger” program that states that ‘Any dog that is in the park is automatically a Bark Ranger.’ We really encourage people to bring their dogs down to the park, and to enjoy the park while still maintaining it. We’ll often have a table set up where we give out Bark Ranger swag. We have two ‘Bark Superintendents’ to act as mascots and leaders of the Bark Ranger program. NPS rangers will do a ranger-led dog walk around the park. The Junior Ranger Program is another really popular activity in the park, as is the Reading with a Ranger program. We helped support that by funding two additional Educational Coordinators for the park. And finally, we also launched the Journey Fund, which kicked off a variety of educational programs for Title 1 schools serving underserved district and areas. Our mission with that program is to pay for all of the costs involved with bringing kids from underserved communities to the Arch. Transportation, tram rides, riverboat rides, everything. It’s a way for underserved kids to get to the Arch, because we never want economics to be a barrier for schoolchildren to come and enjoy the park.”
ADG: “Good on you guys for doing that. And looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for the Gateway Arch Park Foundation?”
Ryan: “Hmmm… that’s a difficult question to answer because we have so many projects in mind! I’d say renovating and restoring the the Old Courthouse is one of our biggest priorities on the near-horizon. But really, we’re going to be here forever, and we’ll always be innovating and evolving the Gateway Arch National Park experience. Not every park has what we have here and the opportunities to do what we do. We feel really blessed to be here.”
ADG: “What do you think about our Gateway Arch National Park poster art? Any designs we should add to our series?”
Ryan: “We really love your art! Your artists do such a great job depicting the Arch. Some day we’d love to see a view of the Arch from the Illinois-side of the river facing towards downtown St. Louis, with the downtown skyline in the background. That skyline is super important to St. Louis residents too, with the Arch being the crown jewel of the skyline. The Old Courthouse would also make a great poster, perhaps from the view of Kiener Plaza with the Old Courthouse and the Arch in the background.”
ADG: “Those are great ideas! I’ll pass them on to our artists. We have some posters about ST. Louis that feature the skyline (see the 3 posters above), but we haven't done a National Park poster with that vantage point yet! We’re always looking for new ways to capture the beauty and majesty of the National Parks. One last question, if there would be one thing about your group or about National Park conservation generally that you’d want the broader public to know, what would that be?”
Ryan: “Hmm.. Well, St. Louis had problems from urban planning decisions made in the mid-20th century. So many communities were built with major highways separating neighborhoods. The beautiful story behind the Gateway Arch Park Foundation is we were able to come in and change a lot of that so that Gateway Arch is revitalized, accessible, improved, and able to be enjoyed by all. We learned from similar revitalization efforts in Klyde Warren Park in Dallas and Millennium Park in Chicago, and now we’re really happy to see so many cities working to preserve and improve their urban parks. To that point, overall awareness and love for the National Parks is so important. But National Parks aren’t just wild, untamed wilderness areas. We think understanding the importance of urban National Park sites in cities is just as important. The urban parks often have so much history and culture attached to them, but because of urban expansion, it’s easy for these parks to become neglected. But they’re such an important part of our collective history, which is why they should be preserved and made accessible to all.”
ADG: “We couldn’t agree more! Ryan, thanks for sitting down with us today.”
Ryan: “Thanks for having me!”
National Park Friend Groups and Foundations
You can learn more about Gateway Arch Park Foundation at their website. Their Support Page shows how you can become a member and support the good works they do in the park and surrounding communities. And their Events Page has a calendar that lists important volunteer happenings, music events, public get-togethers, and more.
If you represent a Foundation, Natural History Association, Friend Group, Conservancy, or Preservation Association that works in any of the 63 American National Parks, contact us today to set up an interview! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, we’ll get back to creating vintage poster art and original illustrations of Gateway Arch National Park and other American National Parks. Let’s all enjoy these wonderful and historic places and do our part to preserve them for future generations.
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer