Anderson Design Group Interviews Western National Parks Association!

Anderson Design Group Interviews Western National Parks Association!

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 poster art.

Truly America’s best idea, 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, 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 parks across the western U.S., we sat down with Julie Thompson, Senior Content and Communication Manager for Western National Parks Association.

Western National Parks Association

ADG: “Let me start by asking, what is Western National Parks Association? If you have an elevator pitch for what your group does, what would that be?”

Julie: “Western National Parks Association (WNPA) is a nonprofit partner to the National Park Service (NPS), helping to support national parks from California to Kansas, and from Texas to Montana. Since its founding in 1938, WNPA has grown to support more than 70 (NPS) sites in 12 western states. WNPA remains committed to connecting new generations to parks in meaningful ways, all with one simple goal: create advocates who want to preserve and protect these special places for everyone, for all time. Our parks are hidden gems and WNPA works to support and generate responsible awareness and appreciation of these beautiful and significant lands.”

ADG: “Most National Park friend groups work with just one park at a time, whereas your group works with a lot! How do you manage to work with so many different parks at once?”

Julie: “We believe small parks have a big impact and that all parks are deserving of support. WNPA strives to balance the needs of all parks regardless of size or income, and our model provides all partner parks the opportunity to participate in the aid we provide. With our commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, supporting each park equitably is a top priority. We operate an online store and stores in most park visitor centers with relevant and unique products to help raise revenue to support our partner parks equitably. They can use this aid to fund a variety of needs such as author events, cultural demonstrations, naturalization ceremonies, honorariums, and interpretive, educational, and outreach events and programs. Of course, we also support parks more indirectly with publications, community outreach, and other initiatives.”

ADG: “How did Western National Parks Association get its start? What’s the story behind the birth of your group?”

Julie: “WNPA was founded at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument on July 22, 1938. Its purpose was to support 18 national monuments in the Southwest by enhancing the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. You can learn more about our unique history here. You'll find that publishing is at the heart of our birth story. We began by providing donor-supported publications to generate awareness of and interest in the original group of monuments we supported. We still maintain our publishing division and continue to tell the important stories of our diverse family of partner parks. Recently, we published White Sands National Park, a book by author Susan Lamb, which just won a Public Lands Alliance 2024 Partnership Award for Publication of the Year. It’s a book designed with love and respect for the modern and prehistoric aspects of this park. There are brilliant stories, events, and cultures connected with each of our partner parks and we help amplify them as much as possible.”

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

Julie: “WNPA is a complex entity with so many aspects to how we support our partner parks. We manage marketing campaigns to generate awareness and responsible recreation across all our parks, like our AllTrails Fall Campaign last year. We also manage publications at the parks that help tell important and sometimes hard-to-tell stories. We run The National Park Experience Pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books every year, the third largest book fair in the country. That is a major undertaking and is always a main attraction at the festival. Our Park Protector membership program is an absolutely beautiful community of park advocates who join knowing that they can be a part of making a difference in the parks. More than this, we are involved in independent activities at each of our 70 partner parks. Whether we’re promoting an event, funding an event, supporting Junior Ranger programs or research projects, designing logos, helping to light candles at luminaria events, and so much more, we really put our whole heart into our mission to ensure that parks are valued by all.”

ADG: “Does your group help 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?”

Julie: "Since its founding in 1938, WNPA has funded scientific, historical, and social science research in national parks to help advance their management, preservation, and interpretation. Conducting a meaningful scientific inquiry is only the beginning of WNPA-funded research. One of our key goals is interpretation—turning research findings into relevant, engaging narratives that inform and entertain park visitors."

Below is an image of the National Park Experience Pavilion at Tucson Festival of Books, photo courtesy of WNPA and Joshua Elz.

"To ensure this goal is met, we require our applicants to work closely with the chief of interpretation and the park’s superintendent, who will conduct the research. WNPA’s Research Committee will look most favorably upon applications that include a plan for interpretation-related products of research. These products might include workshops, posters, presentations, maps, guidebooks, fact sheets, or educational materials that can be displayed at the park.

WNPA supports research in all fields of scholarly research, including anthropology, archaeology, botany, citizen science, ecology, geology, history, natural history, social science, and zoology.

Our research projects are as diverse as our park partners. We have helped fund research into the discovery and preservation of wildlife species as well as the sociocultural histories of Indigenous peoples. We have helped to examine the impacts of climate change as well as the impacts of other human activity on park ecosystems.

For example, we funded research in Saguaro National Park in Arizona that used community science to help study and conserve the park’s amazing biodiversity. There are so many examples of projects like this that engage the community and involve highly relevant topics that are pressing on the minds of all generations.”

ADG: “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?”

Julie: “Dozens of national parks fans volunteer to keep operations humming at Western National Parks Association and its 70+ partner parks. Our volunteers are vetted and are invited to help in the following areas:

- Helping the public in national park stores and visitor centers
- Providing administrative support
- Providing educational programs in the community
- Supporting national park and WNPA events

We host two appeal campaigns every year and have a membership program, the Park Protector program. With an annual membership fee, Park Protectors know they contribute to the many initiatives we support, creating a sense of community among park advocates. They are nurtured with park news and special offers at our retail stores.”

Below is an image of one of WNPA's park stores in a visitor center. These stores help visitors take their park memories home. This one is at Padre Island National Seashore, photo courtesy of NPS.

ADG: “What goes on in the educational side of Western National Parks Association? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in? How do these help promote preservation/conservation in the parks?”

Julie: “There are many elements to this side of WNPA. We support many educational outreach events at parks and at The National Parks Store in Tucson, Arizona. We invite the communities to participate in presentations, panels, artists’ demonstrations, author presentations, and more! In addition to the educational events we help fund and host in parks and The National Parks Store, we also participate in other events and partner with other organizations to support broader initiatives. Our involvement in the Tucson Festival of Books is an example, as are our partnerships with Parks in Focus and Ironwood Tree Experience."

"Additionally, we provide an education scholarship every year: The Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Scholarship was started in 2011 to encourage diversity in the workforce and invest in future stewards of the land. Since its creation, the program has grown to cultivate opportunities for diverse communities to pursue careers with great impact on our national parks and public lands. Scholarships are awarded for internships with the National Park Service (NPS), government agencies, and nonprofit heritage conservation organizations."

WNPA supports educational programming at the parks. The first photo below is Wallace James Jr, a Hubbell Trading Post Navajo trader, presenting at White Sands National Park (photo courtesy of NPS). The second photo below depicts the Indigenous Peoples' Day event at Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments, which WNPA sponsors (photo courtesy of NPS and P. Santellan).

"Also of note, during the initial phases of the pandemic, we organized a series of teaching tools for online and hybrid learning.

This link takes you to a broader look at our educational focus!”

ADG: “What do you think about our National Park poster art? Do you have any favorites? Are there any aspects of the National Parks you think we should try to capture in art?”

Julie: “We love the aesthetic of your designs, and how you manage to depict the unique qualities of each park through work that evokes a sense of nostalgia while simultaneously being inviting and welcoming to younger generations. We especially appreciate how you incorporate people into your artwork, demonstrating the important message that these are places where people can go for amazing experiences they may not even have known existed. Each piece is so distinct and yet feels unified in its appeal and message. There is truly a national park experience for everyone!”

ADG: “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?”

Julie: “National parks truly offer transformational experiences of pure joy. They are places of belonging and community, of relaxation and exhilaration. They help preserve important histories, beautiful cultures, and vital wildlife. There is a national park for everyone and they are closer than you think. We want to help people learn about these amazing places and empower them to experience the parks. We want to be a part of the amazing national park adventure that everyone should have, and we want to educate people on how to recreate responsibly and with respect for the people who originally inhabited and still thrive in these places.”

ADG: “Thanks for chatting with us today, Julie!”

Julie: “Thanks for having me!”

The Importance of Supporting Groups that Protect the National Parks

You can learn more about Western National Parks Association at their website. You can become a member or make a purchase in their shop to support their work.

If you represent a National Park Association, Foundation, Natural History Association, Friend Group, Conservancy, or Preservation Association that works in any of the 63 American National Parks, contact us today to schedule an interview! Just email

In the meantime, we’ll return to creating vintage American National Parks poster art. Let’s enjoy these beautiful, historic places and do our part to preserve them for future generations.

One final note: Have you seen our Illustrated Guide to Exploring the Grand Circle? Available in both hardcover and softcover editions, this book is all about the amazing parks of the Grand Circle—a circuit of natural wonders in southern Utah and northern Arizona that can be experienced by car or camper.

This gorgeous book is both an art piece and a guide; it includes hand-rendered illustrations and maps, photos, timelines, and a fascinating narrative by historian Daniel S. Pierce. This 9” x 12” full-color coffee table book is loaded with new poster art by Anderson Design Group and stunning photography by Joel Anderson. It has trip-planning information and tips to help you plan your adventure. This artful book is perfect for any outdoor lover, poster art fan, or American Southwest history buff!

We hope you enjoy it, and we hope you enjoy your travels out west!

-Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer

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