WASHINGTON, D.C. — Friends of Acadia (FOA) President David MacDonald traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to present testimony before Congress during a legislative hearing on a draft “National Park Service Centennial Act.”
The proposed legislation would provide additional park funding through mechanisms, including an extension of the Centennial Challenge Grants that have helped support several projects at Acadia in the past year. The goal of the program is to help prepare national parks for their “second century” by challenging park friends groups and similar organizations to raise private funds to match congressional appropriations for park maintenance and youth engagement programs.
Seated between National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and National Park Foundation Vice Chairman John Nau, MacDonald told the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee about the importance of Acadia National Park both for its economic impact on the communities of the Maine coast and for its personal significance to park visitors. He emphasized that “our members love their park, and they are very proud to give back to the park through our organization – either through charitable donations or through volunteer service.”
Speaking specifically about the Centennial Challenge grants, MacDonald noted that the NPS and Acadia National Park centennials are “resonating for people as an opportunity to be a part of [the park’s] historic legacy.” But, he added, private donors respond to public/private partnership opportunities but do not want their philanthropy to substitute for the fundamental obligation of Congress to fund national park operations.
And he urged the committee members to reconsider restrictions in the 2015 challenge grants that required that projects be implemented by the parks, saying, “I’d encourage you to consider building in more flexibility for groups like Friends of Acadia to actually implement some of the centennial projects. I think that our groups have shown … that private partners like ours can provide nimbleness, creativity [and] flexibility.”
MacDonald also answered questions about how to encourage volunteerism at national parks and the impact of the park’s maintenance backlog on the visitor experience. He also highlighted the 2016 Acadia Centennial celebration and invited the committee members to visit Acadia during its centennial year.
MacDonald said that the examples provided from Acadia were well received at the hearing. “At the same time, it’s very helpful for FOA to be part of the national-level discussion,” he said.
FOA was invited to testify because of its experience blending public and private funding to benefit the park and communities.