Anderson Design Group Interviews Grand Canyon Conservancy!
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 the parks by creating original, high-quality poster art.
The National Parks were created to preserve America's natural beauty and cultural history, with each park representing a significant chapter in the great American story. We believe strongly in preserving the parks for future generations to enjoy, so 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 Grand Canyon National Park, we took some time this week to sit down with Mindy Riesenberg, Director of Marketing and Communications at Grand Canyon Conservancy.
Grand Canyon Conservancy
ADG: “Great to have you with us, Mindy! What is the Grand Canyon Conservancy?”
Mindy: “Great to be here! Grand Canyon Conservancy is the official nonprofit partner of Grand Canyon National Park, raising private funds, operating retail shops within the park, and providing premier educational programs about the natural and cultural history of the region. Our donors fund projects including trails and historic building preservation, educational programs for the public, and the protection of wildlife and their natural habitat. Grand Canyon Conservancy’s mission is to inspire generations of park champions to cherish and support the natural and cultural wonder of Grand Canyon.”
ADG: “I understand you work in Grand Canyon National Park, but is your group also in charge of programs and activities outside the park? How does your group interact with the community?”
Mindy: “We are the partner of the National Park, meaning we support initiatives and needs within the National Park. However, we do work with community members on these initiatives at the Park. For example, we are working with the Inter-tribal Working Group (made up of representatives of the 11 tribes traditionally associated with Grand Canyon National Park) on the development of the first Inter-tribal Cultural Heritage Site in the National Park Service. Sometimes we will host events outside of the park to raise awareness of GCC and the funding that is needed to make important projects, like work on the Colorado River, for example. Generally, these are held in Arizona, but we also host some events across the country on occasion. We also host a Zoom series called 'Canyon Conversations' for our members across the country and around the world, with guest speakers including the Superintendent of the park.”
ADG: “How did the Grand Canyon Conservancy get its start? What’s the story behind the birth of your group?”
Mindy: “Grand Canyon Conservancy was founded in 1932 as the Grand Canyon Natural History Association by naturalist Edwin 'Eddie' McKee. A ranger working on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, McKee saw the need for a park partner that would support interpretive programs and publications about the canyon, and from its beginnings the Natural History Association did just that, funding interpretive talks, research, and scientific papers. In October 1994, Grand Canyon Natural History Association changed its name to Grand Canyon Association, emphasizing an expanding list of services outside the realm of 'natural history.' In 2018, the name was changed to Grand Canyon Conservancy, which better communicates who we are, what we do, and how we serve. Today, Grand Canyon Conservancy still serves its founding mission—and much more. Memberships, book publishing, educational programming, philanthropy programs, and more retail locations were added over the years. Each year, Grand Canyon Conservancy provides millions of dollars and countless service hours to support the priorities of Grand Canyon National Park.”
ADG: “Incredible! And what types of projects does your group work on each year? What are some of the projects you're most proud of?”
Mindy: “We work on everything and anything the Park needs, from trail maintenance to historic building preservation, from cultural heritage to climate change initiatives. Some of our notable successes in recent years include:
Grand Canyon Inter-tribal Cultural Heritage Site
For more than 12,000 years, people have lived on what are now Grand Canyon National Park lands, gathering food, telling stories, and weaving a history and a livelihood. Now, Desert View, a place that was initially created to introduce visitors to the Southwest’s diverse and rich cultural heritage, is transforming into a place very much in keeping with its origins. The site is becoming an 'Inter-tribal Cultural Heritage Site'—the first in the National Park Service.
Led by the 11 tribes traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon region, in partnership with the National Park Service, the Desert View Inter-tribal Cultural Heritage Site begins to address the historic inequities faced by Native Americans through new pathways for cultural and economic opportunities to determine a new thriving future.
The Distance Learning Program
Each year, students from around the world explore Grand Canyon National Park without leaving their classrooms. Grand Canyon Conservancy supporters purchased green-screen virtual technology that allows park educators to deliver inspiring and engaging curriculum on everything Grand Canyon.
Preventive Search and Rescue
The Preventive Search and Rescue (PSAR) team helps educate visitors about the extreme conditions and provides support to those people who need help hiking in the canyon. The team is mostly comprised of an incredible group of volunteers who dedicate their time to talking to people, asking questions like: 'Do you know how far your hike is?' 'How much water do you have?' 'Do you know what the temperature is at Phantom Ranch?' When necessary, they will encourage and help people turn back if there is a concern about their preparedness. GCC funds this program and makes it possible.
The Certification of Grand Canyon National Park as an International Dark Sky Park in 2019
The night sky over Grand Canyon reveals a cascade of luminous stars and planets. These ancient constellations have shaped the arts, sciences, and ideas across the millennia. The night sky is inspiring. It is primordial. But it is also imperiled. Grand Canyon National Park is one of the last places in the United States where one can experience a star-filled night sky. One-third of the world's population – including 80% of Americans – can no longer see the Milky Way due to artificial light pollution. We are determined to protect the night sky for future generations, keeping Grand Canyon in the dark. With GCC funding, over 5,000 exterior light fixtures were inventoried and catalogued throughout the park, with 3,500 being found not to meet dark sky guidelines. The park replaced fixtures and installed very low-lumen LED bulbs.”
ADG: “Those are some incredible accomplishments, Mindy! And I understand your group helps fund and manage research, preservation, and cleanup projects. What would an example of such a project be? And why are such projects in our National Parks so important?”
Mindy: “Oh for sure! GCC funds and supports projects like:
1). The restoration of habitat along the Colorado River and throughout the park for endangered plants and animals like monarch butterflies, the humpback chub, and the other species.
2). A Seeps and Springs Hydrology Study that helped to determine the sustainability of the water supply on the Colorado Plateau.
3). Youth and Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps activities, engaging young people and Indigenous youth in meaningful, seasonal work on trails, historic structures, restoring native plant species, and interpretation and education.
4). Through the supporter-funded construction of a high-capacity, energy-efficient greenhouse, the park’s vegetation crews can now grow double the number of plants to support ecology restoration projects at the rim and along the river. Supporters and volunteers continue to assist with greenhouse operations by gathering seeds and cuttings and helping to maintain native habitat throughout the park. These projects are important to maintaining a native habitat for the vegetation, wildlife, endangered species, and water resources throughout the park.”
ADG: “I can see that for sure. 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?”
Mindy: “GCC is a membership organization. We have members around the country and the world who help us preserve and protect Grand Canyon National Park through their contributions. Membership begins as low as $35/year. Our retail stores at the Park (there are 8) also contribute. By shopping in GCC’s stores in the park or online, your proceeds are going back to support the initiatives at the park. We also have volunteers (individual volunteers and companies) who help with activities like cleaning up campgrounds, removing trash on the rim, working in the Greenhouse with native plants, and more.”
ADG: “What goes on in the educational side of the Grand Canyon Conservancy? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in? How do these help promote preservation/conservation in the park?”
Mindy: “We have a few! I'll list them:
GCC runs a Field Institute, which provides amazing immersive and educational adventures at Grand Canyon—all officially designed and developed in partnership with Grand Canyon National Park. Whether you’re looking for a day hike for your family, a once-in-a-lifetime backpacking trip, or an educational class on outdoor photography, the Field Institute has a variety of programs designed to inspire you above and below the rim of Grand Canyon.
To keep Grand Canyon alive in the minds of our youngest enthusiasts, we've also produced an e-learning program called Canyon Field School @Home. Canyon Field School @Home brings geology, ecology, human history, and dark skies curriculum to parents, educators, clubs, and children through online videos and downloadable activity booklets. These fun and focused learning tools double as a universal window through which STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) fields of study are connected to the natural world.
We also manage two residency programs at the park, an Artist in Residence program and an Astronomer in Residence program. The Artist in Residence program hosts individual artists who engage with the park and its visitors during an eight-week residency at the South Rim. The program is designed to support artists engaging with contemporary themes, especially those tied to conservation, cultural identity, and community. The Astronomer in Residence program offers astronomers (both amateur and professional), educators, scientists, visual and performing artists, and writers, the opportunity to practice and share their discipline under one of the most pristine night skies in the United States. Through artwork and educational outreach, the program inspires visitors to see the values of dark night skies, spreads awareness about the threats of light pollution, and explores society’s complex relationships with natural darkness.
The Cultural Demonstration Series provides visitors an opportunity to interact with tribal artisans from Grand Canyon's traditionally associated tribes and share their history and crafts with the public. Grand Canyon Conservancy is committed to preserving cultural heritage at Grand Canyon through this educational program as well as the transformation of the Desert View area to reflect the diverse history of the tribes who call Grand Canyon home.”
ADG: “Those sound like great projects, Mindy! Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for the Grand Canyon Conservancy? Where do you see yourselves in 5 years? 10 years? What do you hope to be working on a decade from now?”
Mindy: “Right now, one of our biggest goals is to make the Superintendent’s Indigenous Affairs Plan a reality. This includes the completion of the Inter-tribal Cultural Heritage Site, continued work with the Cultural Demonstration Series, the creation of jobs and more economic opportunities for our tribal partners within the park, the revision of signage across the park to reflect the true history of the land we stand on, and listening to our partners in the 11 traditionally-associated tribes of Grand Canyon National Park. We hope that in 5 years, 10 years, visitors to the park understand and/or learn about the tribal heritage of the land and that this is just an everyday part of the lessons learned when visiting Grand Canyon.
We also are working to support the park in its scientific work along the Colorado River. Climate change is impacting the park, pushing out native plants and animals and replacing them with non-native species, changing the banks of the river where recreation takes place, and draining water supply for the people, plants, and animals that live in the canyon. We hope that we can assist with mitigating these issues through science and education.”
ADG: “Those sound like great goals! What do you think about our Grand Canyon National Park poster art? Any designs we should add to our series?”
Mindy: “They’re all beautiful. I love the throwback artwork that hearkens to vintage posters. One thing you may want to add is a poster honoring the 11 traditionally associated tribes of Grand Canyon. Or using the tribal medallion that honors the tribes near Mather Point. If you don’t know about the tribes or the medallion, you can learn more on our website.
ADG: “Brilliant idea, Mindy. 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?”
Mindy: “Private philanthropy has played a vital role in sustaining and expanding the National Park System since its inception. In recent years as Federal funding levels have declined, park managers have worked creatively and collaboratively to develop more and better public-private partnerships, helping the National Park Service reach out to new audiences and serve the public in new ways.
For many young people, their first entry point to a National Park is through curriculum-based education programs presented at their schools or at park-based education centers or institutes. Park partners like GCC often cover full and partial scholarships for low income and ethnically diverse students who otherwise could not participate.
Overall, Federal funding only goes so far to assist our wonderful National Parks. Park partners like Grand Canyon Conservancy exist because, without us, the parks wouldn’t have the money to do all the important projects needed in order to protect and preserve the parks for generations to come. You wouldn’t have safe trails to walk; educational programs that teach underserved communities about our public lands, geology, and other sciences; scientific work that helps to save our endangered native species; or anything else that organizations like GCC funds.”
ADG: “We couldn't agree more with those sentiments, Mindy. Thanks for sitting down with us today!”
Mindy: “Thanks for having me!”
The Importance of Supporting National Park Associations and Friend Groups
You can learn more about Grand Canyon 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 member.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, we'll get back to creating vintage poster art of Grand Canyon National Park and other National Parks. Let's enjoy these beautiful, historic places and do our part to preserve them for future generations.
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer