Anderson Design Group Interviews Glacier Conservancy!

Anderson Design Group Interviews Glacier Conservancy!

As artists and wilderness explorers, our passion is to venture into our beloved 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, with each park representing 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 educational work and conservation activities in Glacier National Park, we took some time this week to sit down with Doug Mitchell, Executive Director at Glacier Conservancy.

Glacier Conservancy

ADG: “Great to have you with us, Doug! What is Glacier Conservancy?”

Doug: “Great to be here! Glacier Conservancy is the official nonprofit partner for Glacier National Park. We’re in charge of providing support to the park so the park can provide a margin of excellence for visitors, for wildlife, and for the purposes of maintaining the park for future generations.”

ADG: “I understand you work in Glacier National Park, but is your group also in charge of programs and activities outside the park? How does your group interact with the community?”

Doug: “We are specifically focused in Glacier, but the truth is a lot of the work we support ends up having wide-reaching effects outside the park. For example the Native America Speaks program we fund brings Indigenous community members from the Blackfeet Nation into the park, giving park visitors the opportunity to hear from the Native Americans that once lived in the park. Some of the programs occur outside the park too, as ancestral lands are not constrained by the boundaries of the park. And that's just one example.

Native America Speaks Blackfeet Singers and Dancers - NPS

We also funded a National Park Service-led three year lynx study program. That program extends outside the boundaries of the park, as the animals we study migrate in and out of the park. Even more broadly, some of the research we've funded has impacted the national concept of park visitation. For example, this lynx study, it was a three year study. 2019, 2020, and 2021. We had 150 wildlife cameras in the park. Those cameras took a lot of pictures, over one million in fact. The scientists assumed there would be similar conditions in the three years. But all of a sudden, the lynx researchers had lots of photographs of wildlife that normally would not have been there. Why? During the pandemic, much of the park was completely shut down. When the humans left, certain wildlife we don’t see around as often returned. So our research effectively answered the question, 'Does human visitation impact wildlife?' The answer is, definitively, yes. That knowledge will have national implications as policymakers decide how to manage our public lands.”

ADG: “How did the Glacier Conservancy get its start?”

Doug: “It started in 1999 when the National Park Foundation worked with local groups to create this park's first nonprofit partner, the Glacier Fund. There was a local state senator at the time who owned a car dealership. He got together with the executive director of the Glacier Fund and they had the idea to create a charity license plate that would support Glacier National Park. It was one of the first of its kind. All you had to do was go to the DMV, select the Glacier Fund charity plate, and just like that, you were supporting the park! People loved the idea. It really took off and it got Glacier Fund on its feet to the tune of $200,000 annually in revenue. In 2013, Glacier Fund merged with Glacier Natural History Association to create the Glacier Conservancy. This transition was way more efficient, as now the same organization promotes the park, fundraises for it, and operates the retail centers that sell products with profits going back to the park. This year we'll provide more than $3 million to the park, which is pretty exponential growth compared to $200,000 in the early-2000s. Similarly, our network has grown exponentially, as more and more folks are realizing the importance of protecting the park. Our email list had 6,000 subscribers in the early-2000s. Today it has over 120,000.”

ADG: “Incredible! That’s an amazing degree of growth, and I’m sure the park benefits greatly from your group’s funding. What types of projects does your group work on each year? What are some of the projects you're most proud of?”

Doug: “We have over 40 programs we’re currently funding and organizing. I’ll mention three here:

We just celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Native America Speaks Program, which I referenced earlier. The Native America Speaks program is the longest-running Indigenous speaker series in the National Park Service system. This inspiring program began in 1982 and connects visitors to Glacier National Park’s first people’s history, culture, and language. Through this sacred connection to Glacier National Park, the Glacier Conservancy has devoted efforts to building lasting relationships and preserving the traditions, language, and land of the Blackfeet, Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai peoples. Visitors become enriched and moved by participating in this program, and the philanthropic support we organize is crucial to making this program happen.

We’re also dedicated to training the next generation of public lands stewards. Every year, we raise about $175,000-$180,000 to expand ranger-led educational opportunities for students. Schools can call and make visitation arrangements with us, and we cover the bussing costs and fee-free access to the park. Anywhere from 10,000-20,000 students will get to interact with a ranger each year, in the park, as a result of this program. And we're blessed to have such a great infrastructure at the park for this exact purpose, too. The National Park Service does a lot of the groundwork in this program, and we provide the funding. 

Ranger Led Education - NPS

In 2017 and 2018, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (Glacier National Park and our neighbors to the north in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park) applied to be an International Dark Sky Park. Once admitted, we became the first-ever cross-boundary Dark Sky Park. To pull this off, both parks had to agree to implement actions to identify and resolve lighting issues. Our group paid for lighting replacement to make all light fixtures in the park dark-sky compliant. We also put together the funding for the largest Dark Sky Park telescope ever. It’s called the Dusty Star Observatory, and it’s located at the St. Mary Visitor Center. This was all to make our 'Half the Park Happens After Dark' dream program a reality. In so doing, we now fund 'star parties' at Logan Pass. Folks can head up there at 10:00 p.m. and look through the telescopes! Blackfeet Tribespeople will also come up, set up tepees, and share origin stories with visitors.”

Half The Park Happens After Dark: Astronomy Programming Dusty Star Observatory - NPS

ADG: “Those are some incredible accomplishments, Doug! And how does Glacier Conservancy raise money to support all of the great programs you’re involved in, within the park?”

Doug: “For us it’s all about storytelling. We find that when we connect people to the deeper meaning behind the park and the importance of the park, people just naturally want to become supporters and philanthropic patrons of the park. For us it’s always about connecting the supporters to the actual activities, programs, educational events, cleanups, new-builds, conservation efforts, cultural preservation, and other activities that our supporters are literally funding with their donations. For example, we’ll bring in keynote speakers to dinner events for donors. In a recent dinner, we brought in the lead researcher who was in charge of the lynx research project I mentioned earlier. She was able to present to our donors the findings of her project and how those findings will help the biology field to understand more about this incredible mammal and our responsibility in ensuring its continued survival. Overall, we are very authentic about how the money we raise is being spent, and we find that the more details we show people about the great works their donations are funding, the more people want to sign up to support our work. Just to give another example, we launched a book club, where proceeds go to the Conservancy. It just had a few readers in it when we first started, and now it has over 300 participants. We’ve also made a lot of advancements in getting people involved with the park online, a huge change since the pandemic. Now we have retired folks from halfway across the world donating to our Conservancy because they have fond memories of visiting the park decades ago, and now, thanks to technology, they can stay connected and involved with the goings-on here. For us, it’s all about storytelling for the purpose of building community.”

Headwaters Podcast - NPS

ADG: “‘Storytelling for the purpose of building community.’ I love that. And given the extensive list of projects your group is working on, how do you enlist the help of the community in these projects?”

Doug: “Oh for sure. We help fund activities that Glacier National Park Volunteer Associates organizes. We also help fund educational programs put on by the Glacier Institute. For example, the Glacier Institute is working on an aquatic invasive species monitoring program. They needed funding for two monitoring stations, which we provided. Another example is we helped fund the hiring of a volunteer coordinator, parking kiosks, and WiFi to support the volunteer-led vehicle reservation system. Essentially, when a group has a great idea for a volunteer program within the park that will benefit the park, visitors, and wildlife, we’re ready and willing to help fund it.”

ADG: “What goes on in the educational side of the Glacier Conservancy? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?”

Doug: “We really tip our hats to the many groups that see it as their mission to not just educate young people on the park, but to actually train them for potential future careers in the park. For example, the Glacier Institute requested funding for a Middle School STEAM Camp for Girls. NPS staffs the education side, GI operates it, and GNPC funds it. It really was a cooperative effort we were proud to be a part of. Another program is our Native Plant Preservation Through Youth Engagement program, which allows for native plants in the park to literally be cared for by young people in school during our off season (late fall, winter, and early spring). We even had a local school’s shop class reach out to us, and we worked with them to set up a program where students in shop class were literally building ranger cabins for Glacier, and we were providing the funding for the building material! Projects like that really warm our hearts, because we feel they are materially connecting young people to the park, and potentially getting them started on careers in and around the park.”

Native Plant Preservation Through Youth Engagement - NPS

ADG: “Those sound like great projects, Doug! Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for the Glacier Conservancy?”

Doug: “We're dreaming big. One of the challenges we're thinking about A LOT right now is how to find the perfect balance between making the park accessible and available to all and not having too many people flood into the park so that the park becomes overburdened and harmed by human traffic. Think about it this way; we have 3 million visitors in Glacier each year, which is three times the total population of the state of Montana. And the brutal truth is, that many people can make a mess of the park. So we're doing everything we can to make park visitation safer, cleaner, more sustainable, more meaningful, and more beneficial for both the visitors AND the park. 

We're also setting our sights on some pretty big projects. We have a long-term goal of reintroducing the Glacier Bison to the park, an ungulate that used to live here. We're working with several groups, most significantly the Blackfeet Nation that once lived in a symbiotic relationship with the Glacier Bison. This is called the Iinnii Initiative, and once completed, it will be one of our seminal works in bringing Glacier National Park back to its wild, natural form.”

ADG: “Those sound like great goals! What do you think about our Glacier National Park poster art? Any designs we should add to our series?”

Doug: “They’re all beautiful. I would love to see artwork that really highlights the ‘neighborhoods’ of Glacier, as these are the places within the park where people have experiences that resonate with them. I’m referring to places like Logan Pass, Avalanche Lake, Two Medicine, Many Glacier, Cut Bank, the North Fork, places like that. Each of these neighborhoods is iconic, and I could see your poster artists really capturing the majesty of each neighborhood.”

ADG: “Brilliant idea, Doug. I'll be sure to pass that on to our artists. One last question, if there would be 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?”

Doug: “Do your part. I know it sounds simple. But if everyone did their part to protect our natural treasures like Glacier, I would have no doubt whatsoever that this park will be here for centuries to come. There’s a way to think responsibly about the park and still have a great time visiting the park. But people have to be intentional about it. We believe when people come here and visit, they have an experience they won’t get anywhere else. And they’ll be inspired to support the park. Glacier National park is a place where you can find peace, joy, and majesty. And it deserves to be protected and supported.”

ADG: “We couldn't agree more with those sentiments, Doug. Thanks for sitting down with us today!”

Doug: “Thanks for having me!”

The Importance of Supporting National Park Associations and Friend Groups

You can learn more about Glacier Conservancy at their website. Their store has a selection of educational materials, books, toys, and games. If you want to support their work in perpetuity, you can become a Friend of Glacier.

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 set up an interview! Just email ren@andersondesigngroup.com.

In the meantime, we'll get back to creating vintage poster art of Glacier 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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