Ernestine – Nicodemus’ Queen of BBQ

Nicodemus’ noted culinary star was Ernestine VanDuvall. She passed in 2004 at the age of 83. Her grandmother, Emma Williams, came with her parents and two siblings and was with the first settlers arriving at Nicodemus in 1877. Emma was the mother of Henry, the first baby born in Nicodemus. Her second son Charles was Ernestine’s father. Ernestine’s great-grandfather, Tom Johnson, and his three adult children, including Emma, were among the first families to leave the town and locate on their homestead 3 miles north of Nicodemus. Tom and each of his children homesteaded land in section 23 of the Nicodemus township. They became successful farmers and, in the 1880s, were noted for the number of livestock they had acquired.

A small house in Nicodemus, similar to what Ernestine would have grown up in (courtesy of NPS).

Ernestine learned to cook in her mother’s kitchen, and on Sundays, each of her eight sisters would make their favorite pies for visiting family and friends. Ernestine’s was lemon meringue. As a young child, she started working at Nicodemus’ local café, Julia Lee’s, where she learned to cook fried chicken and other dishes. As an adult, she moved to California and opened her first restaurant Ernestine’s BBQ in Pasadena, and often catered for Walt Disney. She returned to Nicodemus in the early 1970s and opened up her first and only restaurant in Nicodemus.


Fall off the bone ribs (courtesy of NPS).

She closed in 1984, but in 1989, her niece, Angela Bates, who worked for her in Pasadena, moved to Kansas. Angela opened her first café in the nearby town of Bogue, then a year later in Nicodemus, and finally in the home of Ernestine next to the site of her old restaurant. She named it Ernestine’s and used Ernestine’s famous recipes that she had learned to cook. Ernestine assisted her until her death, making peach cobbler and entertaining the guest by playing the piano and singing the blues and gospel.

Before Nicodemus became known as a unit of the National Parks, people knew Ernestine of Nicodemus, the famous BBQ Queen. Her name still reverberates in the homes and businesses where she is remembered as a bigger-than-life personality, singing the blues and gospel and playing the piano. At the same time, they ate her famous fried chicken and barbecue ribs. She had a sign in her restaurant with a picture of a kid in a high chair eating ribs; it said, A happy baby eats Ernestine’s ribs.

Ernestine’s BBQ Sauce (courtesy of NPS).

Although Ernestine’s BBQ was closed during the pandemic, the famous BBQ sauce was still being purchased in stores and outlets throughout the state. After remodeling, the restaurant re-opened in 2021 for the spring/summer season. Angela will re-open the café this spring at the end of April 2023. Her hours will be Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 AM -2:00 PM. Large parties and catering can be arranged by appointment. She will close for the season the last week in October 2023. During the renovation, a wayside sign and a life-size silhouette of Ernestine were installed at the entrance.

Over the years, many Park Service superintendents, park rangers, interns, and other staff have had the great opportunity to taste and experience Ernestine’s famous barbecue. Ernestine’s BBQ sauce is even available for purchase at the Visitor Center. Visit Nicodemus National Historic Site, read about her history, and experience the culinary legacy of Ernestine VanDuvall.


By: Angela Bates, Executive Director, Nicodemus Historical Society

Board Member John Koprowski Earns The Wildlife Society’s Aldo Leopold Memorial Award

Tucson, Arizona (December 29, 2022)—One of the nation’s most prestigious environmental awards was presented to Western National Parks Association (WNPA) board member John Koprowski on November 8. The Aldo Leopold Memorial Award is the highest award given by the Wildlife Society, an eleven-thousand-member organization, recognizing an individual’s contributions to the wildlife field. Previous recipients include luminaries like Olaus Murie, Ding Darling, and Arizonan Stewart Udall.

John Koprowski speaking at the award ceremony (courtesy of the Kathan Bandyopadhyay).

As the 2022 recipient, Koprowski says he’s humbled to win an award for lifetime achievement that began with a grant from WNPA in the early 1990s to study the endangered Chiricahua fox squirrel at Chiricahua National Monument. “I wouldn’t have started doing research in the Southwest if not for that grant, which helped me build so many important relationships.”

Koprowski is dean of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and former University of Arizona wildlife conservation professor and director of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. He has served on the WNPA board’s research committee since 2020 and as chair for a year. “It has been wonderful to go full circle, now leading the committee that selected my grant proposals in the past,” said Koprowski, who also was awarded WNPA’s Emil W. Haury Lifetime Achievement Award.

“That’s what we love to see with our WNPA grants—we try to get research started and build those relationships, and then the researcher and the park unit can work together to identify other sources of funding and other questions of interest.”

A coatimundi within Chiricahua National Monument (courtesy of NPS).

In Koprowski’s case, an interest in the Chiricahua fox squirrel led to future javelina and coatimundi studies, as well as grants from National Geographic, the US Forest Service, the National Science Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund, to name a few. In Arizona, he’s widely recognized for his work with the endangered red squirrel of Mount Graham in the Pinaleño Mountains and is known for helping disparate groups resolve complex environmental and natural resource challenges through collaboration and community involvement. Through research gathering and sharing, he has brought together astronomers, biologists, and Indigenous communities to create solutions benefiting all parties and protecting a federally endangered species.

“If you’re looking for sustainable plans of action, you really need to involve a community in some way so that they’re valued and heard—and hopefully part of the solution to finding a pathway forward,” said Koprowski.

The Aldo Leopold Memorial Award (courtesy of John Koprowski).

Internationally, he’s led similar community-based initiatives with his graduate students in Mexico, Peru, and Colombia, as well as a project with endangered freshwater Ganges river dolphins in Nepal threatened by a series of constructed dams. Community members and fishermen collected data that resulted in an understanding of dolphin ecology and greater support of conservation. For a project with Mongolian wolves, Koprowski works with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences to train local scientists as part of a collaborative research team. He has researched the role of squirrels and rodents as climate-change indicators in China’s panda-populated higher elevations and studied how they regenerate South African forests damaged by elephants. Tigers, bears, snakes, and salamanders have also been subjects of his studies.

Koprowski’s biggest conservation victories, he says, can be measured by connections. “A small grant to work on squirrels at a national monument in the far southeastern corner of Arizona enabled me to build momentum. I’ve impacted over 50 grad students and a few thousand undergraduate students, who are out doing their own research. What is better than knowing these beautiful landscapes, these wonderful organisms and incredible ecosystems, will continue to persist? These grants that provide seed funding are so critical.”

They can also lead to unthinkable honors. “I never saw myself having the level of success to win an Aldo Leopold Award. It’s the same award two of my mentors won—two incredibly influential individuals: Willard Klimstra and Tony Peterle. I am beyond honored.”

About WNPA Research Grants
WNPA’s grant projects must originate in a WNPA-affiliated park. These research grants connect researchers and parks in all fields of scholarly study, including anthropology, archaeology, botany, citizen science, ecology, geology, history, natural story, social science, and zoology, while benefiting the management, preservation, and interpretation of National Park Service resources served by WNPA.

About WNPA
WNPA helps make the national park experience possible for everyone. As a nonprofit education partner of the NPS, WNPA supports parks across the West, developing products, services, and programs that enhance the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. Since 1938 WNPA has worked to connect 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. Learn more at

By: Melissa Crytzer Fry

Award recipients recognized for contributions to WNPA and national parks

Tucson, Arizona (December 16, 2022)—On November 9, 2022, Western National Parks Association (WNPA) announced the recipients of its annual awards. For more than 30 years, WNPA has recognized individuals and organizations who make exceptional contributions to national parks and increase awareness of WNPA’s mission.

“With climate change reminders ever present, it is more important than ever to celebrate those who protect and bring awareness to our majestic, irreplaceable outdoor spaces, and those who strive to ensure their accessibility into the future,” said Marie Buck, chief executive officer of WNPA, which has been a nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service (NPS) since 1938. “This year’s impressive award winners have spent decades making a difference—or are just embarking as ambassadors of our parks. We congratulate and thank them as they help us advance the important mission of our national park system.”

Steven A. LeBlanc accepting the award (courtesy of Brad Sutton).

Steven A. LeBlanc, archaeologist, researcher, and renowned author, received the Emil W. Haury Lifetime Achievement Award for 50-plus years of study in the ancestral Puebloan culture of the American Southwest. Known for his pathbreaking conclusion that violence and strife played vital roles in the region, LeBlanc is the author of two books influential to the study of archaeology and the understanding of cultures across the globe: Explanation in Archaeology: An Explicitly Scientific Approach and Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest. LeBlanc created a foundation to protect and research surviving Mimbres cultural sites in New Mexico and also established the Mimbres Archive, which has cataloged more than ten thousand ceramics. LeBlanc’s examination of tree-ring data to determine the collapse of two linked cultures, and his revolutionary use of DNA technology to study ancient peoples, illustrate just two highlights of his trailblazing archaeological career. LeBlanc’s fingerprints can be seen on myriad projects: in his contributions to more than a hundred books, through the preservation of crucial archaeological sites and artifacts viewable at national parks and museums, in thousands of citations of scholarly work, and as subject matter in countless classrooms. He has held positions at the Southwest Museum, University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, and the Peabody Museum at Harvard.

The Emil W. Haury Lifetime Achievement Award honors individuals who have made a significant and lasting contribution to scholarly research in the national parks and monuments over the course of a career or lifetime. Haury, a preeminent archaeologist and anthropologist, devoted his career to chronicling the prehistory of the Southwest, compiling the most complete cultural history of any region in North America. He is most famous for his work at Snaketown, a Hohokam site in Arizona. Haury was the first to claim that the Hohokam were descendants of the Paleoindian Cochise culture. In 1938, he was instrumental in founding the Southwest Monuments Association, renamed Western National Parks Association in 2002. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Park System Advisory Board, Haury died in Tucson, Arizona, in 1992.

Courtesy of Callum Cintron.

Callum Cintron, an anthropology and natural resources student at Oregon State University, received the Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Scholarship. A transgender person with a disability, Cintron is most concerned with issues of safety and accessibility in the country’s parks and is determined to ensure that public lands—especially national parks—are accessible to everyone. They have worked as a volunteer apprentice at Partnership for the National Trail System and helped plan the group’s National Trails Workshop in 2022. As an active member on the DEI committee, which works to foster “an inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible culture throughout the National Trail System,” Cintron’s work has also helped elevate Indigenous knowledge and stewardship. They embody the values that the Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Scholarship was founded on: supporting those who aim to increase diversity in the workforce of the National Park Service and similar land management and resource agencies.

The Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Scholarship was established at WNPA in 2016 by retired NPS leader and former WNPA board member Ernie Quintana and his friend and NPS colleague Marty Sterkel. The scholarship’s goal is to support individuals whose intended use of the scholarship and career goals will increase diversity in the workforce of the NPS and similar land management or resource agencies. The scholarship provides for college tuition and internships in areas of study relevant to parks management, conservation, and other special study opportunities targeting the same goal. WNPA hopes to inspire individuals from all backgrounds to consider careers serving as NPS and other similar resource professionals. The Ernest Quintana and Marty Sterkel Education Scholarship aims to change the lives of diverse young people and change the future of our public lands.

Courtesy of Rianne Kravitz.

Rianne Kravitz, the first recipient of the James E. Cook Nature’s Classroom Grant, is a teacher at Developing Virtue Secondary School, a private Buddhist boarding school in Ukiah, California. She plans to use the grant to fund a trip to Pinnacles National Park for eight girls who have never been camping. They will spend two days with park rangers and the Ventana Wildlife Society, helping researchers monitor the endangered California condor, maintain the birds’ natural habitat, and identify challenges to condor survival. As they learn responsible stewardship, the group also will spend time beautifying the park with cleanup activities and trail maintenance, practicing the habit of “leaving no trace.” Upon return, participants will share their experience and knowledge with fellow classmates and the community. As part of their own conservation efforts at the school, students will build a monarch butterfly habitat. The goal, according to Kravitz, is to instill a love of nature, which needs protecting. Kravitz’s vision mirrors the WNPA’s mission of introducing young people to national treasures in the hopes that they will be inspired to protect them for future generations.

The James E. Cook Nature’s Classroom Grant, named in honor of Western National Parks Association’s chief executive officer from 2011 to 2022, was established to increase access to national parks for underrepresented K–12 youth. It provides funding for educators to bring national parks to the classroom and the classroom to national parks. During Cook’s tenure, WNPA incorporated the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in its mandate, and worked to make our partner parks more accessible, more welcoming, and more inclusive of all peoples and their stories to represent the full breadth of experiences related to these important lands. Based on the premise of inclusivity, WNPA strives to cultivate a passion for parks in youth, as well as a greater appreciation and understanding of our natural and cultural heritage, to foster the next generation of park advocates.

About WNPA
WNPA helps make the national park experience possible for everyone. As a nonprofit education partner of the NPS, WNPA supports parks across the West, developing products, services, and programs that enhance the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. Since 1938, WNPA has worked to connect 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. Learn more at

By: Melissa Crytzer Fry

From the grassy mall on the University of Arizona, one can look east and gaze upon the pine-topped peaks of the Rincon Mountains east of the sprawling city of Tucson. I often stand on that mall and imagine what that same scene may have looked like in 1885, when the University of Arizona was established. I wonder if Surveyor General Levi Manning, who built Manning Cabin high in the Rincons, ever stood in that same place and gazed with the same longing as I do. I wonder if any of the ponderosa vigas or roof beams that were harvested by Mexican laborers out of places like Mica Meadow and Rincon Peak are still standing in any of the original structures that date back to the birth of early contemporary Tucson. I wonder if any of the finely dressed ladies of the time were wearing cosmetics made with the sparkling mica deposits found in the granitoid crags of the Rincon Mountains. Surely many people have gazed upon the Rincon Mountains with the same longing that I have, from the earliest Hohokam-era peoples who may have envisioned the deer filled meadows and turkeys roosting amongst the aspen groves, to the various developers who dreamt of roads, retreats, and respite from the harsh Sonoran Desert summers. The Rincon Mountains have been the fixation of many people over the centuries, myself included, yet they remain mysterious, wild, and as undisturbed as can be found in our hyper-modern world of constant connectivity.

Most people have heard of the Santa Catalina Mountains, particularly Mt. Lemmon, and as far as the Madrean Sky Island bioregion goes, the Santa Catalinas remain one of the most accessible and beloved. Like a geographic sibling rivalry, the Rincon Mountains stand determinedly in the eastern shadow of the Santa Catalinas, both figuratively and literally. While being geologically very similar, perhaps even identical depending on who you ask, the two ranges couldn’t be more different in the way they provide us with recreation, solitude, and leisure. For all the convenience of the Santa Catalinas, the Rincons are remote and difficult to access. They are a rocky wilderness full of steep climbs ribboned with banded gneiss and rugged canyons bursting with sharp succulents, the type of terrain that makes for stunning vistas and overpriced postcards. When accessed via automobile, like on the Catalina Highway, those vistas can inspire proclamations of appreciation. Something like “Oooohhh” and “Ahhhhh” “Ain’t it beautiful” would be appropriate. But this same terrain, when accessed via the kinds of travel required to explore the Rincons, (foot or on horse or mule), those same kinds of vistas evoke something a little deeper. Those same rugged vistas and diversity of Sky Island scenery can be appreciated on a profounder level, that is, once you stop sweating, crying, bleeding, or possibly all the above. Getting deep into the Rincon Mountains takes a kind of wilderness locomotion that is typically reserved for our most cherished and hallowed wild spaces and cultural treasures. Places like Macchu Picchu and Mt. Kilimanjaro come to mind; if you want to experience these places, then you will have to put in the work.

The Rincon Mountains (Courtesy of NPS).

With no easy way to get there, the Rincon Mountains become a unique treat full of cultural heritage, ancient stories, and unforgettable biodiversity. To see the historic cabin built by the Manning family in 1904, one has to undertake a journey that is statistically similar to descending to the Colorado River and back in the Grand Canyon, a feat unto itself. If one wants to stand in the same spot atop Rincon Peak where Manuel Escalante stood and lost his hat to a gust of wind while helping to survey Southern Arizona in preparation for coming statehood, then one must climb from the saguaro studded furnace of the Sonoran lowlands, through rattlesnake occupied grasslands and oak and juniper scrublands home to healthy populations of mountains lions, black bears, and coatimundi. One must continue into the thick canopied old growth pine and fir forest full of the melodic calls of endangered Mexican spotted owls, acorn woodpeckers and Steller’s jays, and then finally climb the nearly vertical granite top of Rincon Peak. Once the pain of the endeavor subsides, then one can truly appreciate the remoteness and resiliency of the Rincon Mountains.

Mostly a wilderness area, the Rincon Mountains haven’t always been the pristine and untouched sky island that they are today, legally speaking. It is rumored that Levi Manning intended to build a Summerhaven-esque resort in the area around Mica Bowl. He even had a road surveyed for such a project, which some estimates say cost him a hefty price, but ultimately, the wilder notions of the Rincon Mountains prevailed, and they were set aside as a forest reserve in 1907. They have changed landlords over the years, with the Forest Service managing some of the early operations and then the National Park Service taking over since the 1940’s. Today, the Rincon Mountains are co-managed by both agencies under Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest. While the two agencies may differ in management strategy, on paper the Rincon Mountains are overwhelmingly one identity: wilderness.

Overlooking the busy and ever-growing city of Tucson, the Rincons help to provide two very critical functions for those dwelling below. The first is access to wild space. Saguaro National Park helps to preserve this fragile balance by providing recreation opportunities in the over 60,000-acre federally designated Saguaro Wilderness, a place where, per the description of the Wilderness Act, “man himself is just a visitor.” This access to wild space allows us to escape the stresses and chaos of our hyper-modern lives for rejuvenating and restorative time spent in nature. But the wilderness of the Rincon Mountains also acts as a living laboratory where park staff can study the changes in our climate, the health and distribution of critical species, as well as monitor the overall state and wellbeing of the Madrean Sky Island bioregion. This kind of emphasis on preservation allows for an untouched and undisturbed ecosystem where we can observe the balance and fragility that is existence in the Sonoran Desert, but also appreciate the adaptability and resiliency of the unique plants and animals that call it home, us included.

Snowy creek (Courtesy of NPS).

Having escaped multiple dissection attempts from road projects to telegraph lines, the Rincon Mountains are now one of the few places left in the Madrean Sky Island bioregion where there is no modern human development. They are the largest roadless Sky Island of the 65 or so ranges that qualify. They are truly a wild space that embraces the city of Tucson in a way that teases proximity and accessibility, perhaps even the words “back yard” come to mind. But anyone who has been to the highest reaches of the Rincon Mountains knows that their secrets are reserved only for the hearty and the prepared. Truly a hidden gem, the Rincon Mountains showcase the best that the Sonoran Desert has to offer and retain the kind of biodiversity that could one day be rightfully called a hotspot.

“Saguaro National Park’s high country in the Rincon Mountains lies next to a city of one million people, but offers a remote wilderness experience of whispering pines, clear springs and beautiful orchids, and snow in the winter” – Jared Suydam, lead park guide in the Rincon Mountain District.

“Few of us appreciate how lucky we are that the Rincons are part of Saguaro National Park at all.  The national monument’s original plan in 1933 called for the US Forest Service, which allows grazing and hunting, to manage the land.  When Saguaro was transferred to the National Park Service by President Roosevelt, local ranchers convinced Senator Carl Hayden to sponsor a bill in Congress to protect only the “Cactus Forest” and return the mountain areas to the Forest Service.” – Don Swann, Park Biologist.

In 1937, the NPS sent a team from Washington DC to decide if the agency should support this action.  They visited the park, interviewed locals, and rode by horseback up to Manning Camp at 8,000 feet. These men were awed by the Rincon Mountains as a whole.  Their report concluded that Saguaro’s greatest value was not only the desert, but in its intimate biological connection with the forests above.  Although the land issues were not fully resolved for decades, the NPS held fast in its conviction that the deserts, grasslands, woodlands and forests of Rincon Mountains – about 100 square miles in total – should be preserved intact.

Waterfall within the Rincon Mountains (Courtesy of NPS).

“Growing up in Tucson means you’re always surrounded by mountains, which I have learned is a luxury many people don’t experience. When I think of the surrounding mountains, I have fond memories of most. The Santa Catalinas hold Mount Lemmon and the Catalina highway – easy escapes from the desert heat. Madera canyon in the Santa Ritas hold some of my fondest memories with my grandparents. I grew up next to the Tucson Mountains – a range I feel most comfortable around. But the Rincons, standing tall on the eastern end of Tucson were always just there – nothing that connected me to them since they were far away and not as accessible as the other ranges.”

“Now after working at Saguaro National Park for over a year, my attitude and understanding of the Rincons have completely changed. They are a place of solitude on the edge of a sprawling city which many people don’t get to experience – a magical sky island with dense forests, perennial water sources, and breathtaking views of southern Arizona. They are where I truly fell in love with the Sonoran Desert. They mark the place of my first backpacking experience – proving to myself I am capable of more than I thought. They are a place of healing and the first place I go when I need time to myself. They are a place I have laughed and cried. They are a place I long to return to once again.” – Malana Starr, Next Generation Ranger Intern.

“When I look at the Rincons I see lives that existed, that we are connected to, but never knew. I feel the tempo of time as eras have passed, and earth and life have been woven anew. To me, the Rincons represent the ever-present blue in the distance; a color you can never arrive at but always strive for. I’ve spent many hours, weeks, and months exploring and studying this mountain range. The more time I spend here, the more curiosities I find within the interconnectedness of the sky island biome, the plants, animals, and people that consider them home, and how the topography shapes these relationships. The Rincons are a place of dichotomy. They exist as a pillar of wilderness among an encroaching city. They are a desert and yet a forest. From cracks and fissures bubble springs that can quench thirst even during the driest times of year. They are a place for us to recreate and enjoy, yet within their boundaries entire epics are lived by the flora and fauna that inhabit primeval forests unintruded by our wanderings. I find the Rincons a place of solace. A pocket of the world we can cherish and care for so that our heritage remains rich. So that those that come after us can continue taking part in the lore and splendor of this place.” – Keeley Lyon-Letts, Science and Resources Ranger.

By: Jared Suydam, Lead Park Guide in the Rincon Mountain District,

Don Swann, Park Biologist

Malana Starr, Next Generation Ranger Intern,

and Keeley Lyon-Letts, Science and Resources Ranger

The end of the school year is always awash with excitement, but particularly so for the fourth graders at Sanford-Fritch Elementary in Texas. Each spring, 40-plus students spend the day outdoors at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area learning about safety.

Children practice kayaking (courtesy of NPS).

“It’s been a tradition for more than twenty years,” said Lake Meredith chief ranger Paul Jones of the collaborative event hosted by National Park Service, National Weather Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and Apollo Air Ambulance.

On April 29, 2022, students rotated through five different activity stations, learning about water safety, weather safety, boating safety, outdoor safety, and first aid. They hopped in helicopters, on boats, and in kayaks, and interacted with weather and safety equipment.

The kayaking event is often the highlight of the day, said Jones. “What fourth grader doesn’t love getting wet?” Students paired up in tandem inflatable kayaks to learn the basic paddling strokes from NPS rangers. They also learned the proper fit of the personal flotation device (PFD) each would carry home.

The Type III lifejackets provided to each student were funded by the Western National Parks Association, through generous donor contributions and from sales within National Park Stores.

“We want to drive home, at the end of the day, that wearing a PFD when they are in and around the water is vital,” said Jones. “Fourth graders are at a prime age to learn water safety aspects, and as they get older and go out boating with their parents, we hope they will let the adults in their lives know that they, too, should be wearing a PFD.”

Children inspecting an air-ambulance helicopter (courtesy of NPS).

The children also learned boating safety from Texas Parks and Wildlife wardens, who allowed students to run the sirens and lights of a patrol boat. Wardens discussed basic vessel terminology and the safety equipment onboard as required by state regulations and the US Coast Guard.

“It’s hard to say what part of the day will be most popular each year,” said Jones, indicating that the first-aid training is also often a draw to students who have the opportunity to crawl in and out of an air-ambulance helicopter. He notes that it’s not all fun and games, though. “Paramedics teach the kids about pressure to stop bleeding, and they also practice bandaging.”

A ranger instructing children on water safety (courtesy of NPS).

Equally important were the stations manned by the National Weather Service. Students interacted with a wind-monitoring system and learned about cloud-to-ground lightning. “We want to keep them aware that when clouds start rolling in—if they are in or near the water and if they can hear thunder—they need to get off the water.”

Given Lake Meredith’s status as the largest body of water in the Texas Panhandle, it’s a popular destination and one that many of the children will likely visit. “It’s important for them to understand safety,” said Jones. “As rangers—or cops—we’re most known for putting the bad guys in jail. We don’t often get to give back to the community, but this is one way we can.”

Only with donor support can the WNPA play its role in supporting community events within national parks. We were pleased to provide 46 personal flotation devices at this small lake park that is making a big impact on community safety.

By: Melissa Crytzer Fry

Imagine the unblinking eyes of a half-buried plastic baby doll staring up at you from the beach sand. Looking out toward the ocean, you see a dozen baby doll heads bobbing before you.

Plastic trash washed ashore (Courtesy of Soren Funk, Unsplash).

It happens—and only a stone’s throw from Padre Island National Seashore. Within the park, everything from leather ottomans and tangled fishing line to Styrofoam coolers and backpacks have washed ashore. Trash is a real problem, according to Kelly Taylor, public information officer and chief of interpretation and education for the park.

It’s such an issue, in fact, that Padre Island National Seashore has taken matters into its own hands—with the help of volunteers and the Western National Parks Association (WNPA). In 2022, WNPA provided support for two trash pickup events at Padre Island.

“We don’t have to advertise the need,” said Taylor. “The trash is everywhere, and there is this natural inclination for people to pick it up.”

It’s a continually growing problem, she says, exacerbated by geography. Padre Island National Seashore is located in the Coastal Bend, where two major currents converge just offshore. “One current flows west and south along the coast,” said Taylor. “It brings with it everything that flows out of the Mississippi River and the other rivers that drain into the Gulf.

A family participating in a trash clean-up (Courtesy of NPS).

“The other west-north current brings with it everything that gets pushed into the Yucatan Channel from South and Central America, plus everything that is dumped into the Gulf from rivers in Mexico.

“In a nutshell, because a lot of the marine debris that is washing up on the shores of Padre Island is literally coming from other parts of the world, it is going to take a commitment from leaders across the globe to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in our oceans and ultimately on our beaches,” said Taylor.

Fortunately, visitors to Padre Island have stepped up. The annual Adopt-a-Beach Clean Up event, a three-hour walk, saw volunteers clearing trash from beach sections accessible around the Malaquite Visitor Center parking lot. Also this year, Shark-a-Thon Fishing Tournament participants received two WNPA-funded bags each in their information packets. Spread along 60 miles of beach during three days, the group removed beach debris and litter from fishing areas and campsites.

Baby sea turtle crawling toward water (Courtesy of NPS).

In another initiative 60 miles from the visitor’s center, the Mansfield Channel Clean Up removed trash in a beach area accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

So, what is the physical weight of all this unwanted trash? During the largest annual cleanup events hosted by Padre Island National Seashore, in the spring and fall, Friends of the Padre collected 63 tons of beach debris (125,460 pounds).

“We are stewards of the Earth,” said Taylor, grateful for volunteers and debris-clean-up support. But she recognizes there is much more to do. “To quote Richard Nixon, ‘If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than with sorrow, we much achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as God really made it, not just as it looked when we got through with it.’”

A flock of brown pelicans flying along Padre Island National Seashore. (Courtesy of Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash)

At first blush, trash pickup may appear a bit unglamorous, but your support of WNPA allowed the volunteers in 2022 at this small national seashore to make a big impact.

By: Melissa Crytzer Fry

Contents of Mexican Spotted Owl Pellets Inform Forest Management Policy in Walnut Canyon National Monument

By Susan E. Swanberg, Associate Professor, Associate Director, School of Journalism at the University of Arizona

In the fall of 2021, more than a hundred children and other members of the public participated in “dissect a barn owl pellet” demonstrations held as part of the annual Flagstaff Festival of Science program. Participants in these events learned how to dissect and examine sanitized barn owl pellets for the remains of creatures the owls once feasted upon. These “owl pellet” demonstrations, three sessions of which were funded by the Western National Parks Association (WNPA), informed an engaged public about techniques used by scientists to study the habits and habitat of the Mexican spotted owl (MSO) in Walnut Canyon National Monument, located approximately 10 miles southeast of downtown Flagstaff, Arizona.

Dense forest surrounding Walnut Canyon National Monument (Courtesy of NPS).

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973 to safeguard species biodiversity by protecting endangered or threatened plants and animals. The ESA classifies a species as threatened when the plant or animal is likely to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Once a species is listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, habitat needed to support recovery of that species can be declared critical habitat and protected from degradation. The Mexican spotted owl has been designated a threatened species, and Walnut Canyon NM has been designated critical habitat for the owl.

Discovering what the MSO eats in specific locations within the monument will help scientists determine whether the monument’s habitat can adequately support and aid in the recovery of the bird. With climate change models predicting alterations in the forest composition that might impact the owl’s prey species, it is important to establish baseline estimates of the prey animals sustaining the MSO population residing within the monument.


WNPA funding supported both the research examining categories of prey consumed by MSOs roosting within the monument and the public outreach program that explained, using a hands-on experience, how owl pellet dissection can help determine which prey species the owls are eating.

The scientists who conducted these studies—Jon Hardes, Mark Szydlo, and Brent Hetzler—focused their efforts on the diet of Walnut Canyon’s Mexican spotted owl population during the breeding season by dissecting MSO pellets collected from the species’ roosts and identifying—to the extent possible—the types of creatures the owls were consuming.

Prior to data collection, several MSO nesting and roosting sites had been identified. In 2018, a pilot study of 48 MSO pellets collected from six roosting sites within the monument was undertaken, and in 2020 a study of 70 MSO pellets collected from nine roosting sites within the monument was conducted.

A complete Sorex merriami (Merriam’s shrew mandible (enlarged) recovered from a Mexican spotted owl pellet (courtesy of NPS/J. Hardes).

No birds were perturbed during the collection of the pellets. According to Hardes, the Walnut Canyon Mexican spotted owls were not bothered by National Park Service (NPS) staff who cautiously and quietly collected the birds’ pellets. Pellets collected by NPS staff were wrapped in foil and labeled according to the location where they were found. Prior to dissection, the pellets were sterilized to kill any parasites they might contain.

Hardes, an archaeologist and vertebrate osteologist, dissected the MSO pellets from both the 2018 and the 2020 studies and examined the contents of the pellets for animal remains, including skeletal or exoskeletal elements from which he could identify the MSO’s prey to the family, genus, or species level. To identify animal bones, Hardes used a skeletal comparative collection housed at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff (called a “bone room” in scientific vernacular) and his own collection of animal bones in conjunction with inventories, reports, and manuals containing information on vertebrate osteology.

The 2018 pilot study conducted in Walnut Canyon NM was remarkable in that the majority of animal remains found within the MSO pellets were the bones of mammals (97% of the remains) and birds (3% of the remains). No arthropod remains were identified in the 45 pellets collected from the six roosting sites examined in 2018. According to Hardes, scarab beetles and other arthropods are commonly found in MSO prey studies, so it had been a bit of a surprise to find no arthropod body parts in the 2018 study. Also interesting was the fact that remains of the silver-haired bat were found in the 2018 pellet sample.

In comparison, the 2020 study of 70 MSO pellets collected from nine roosting sites within the monument also contained a large percentage of mammalian remains (95% ). Pellets from two of the roosting sites, however, did contain the remains of scarab beetles (members of the arthropod group of animals). A very few frog or toad remains were found in the 2020 MSO pellet sample.

Kids dissect sterilized owl pellets to identify what owls have eaten (courtesy of VSPYCC, Flickr).

Hardes, an accomplished scientist who is not, however, an entomologist, was able to identify arthropod remains using identification resources available to him. In his research report to the WNPA, Hardes noted that pellets collected in 2020 from two Walnut Canyon roosts contained more than one hundred limb, thorax, and abdominal elements from scarab beetles.

In his examination of the 2020 pellets, Hardes also identified skeletal elements from several mammalian species not previously identified as Walnut Canyon MSO prey species. These newly identified species included Merriam’s shrew, a species of pocket mouse, and the white-throated woodrat (a packrat, in common parlance).

In a scientific note published in the journal Western Birds in 2022, Hardes wrote that this WNPA-funded study “will provide resource managers with baseline data critical to the development of more effective forest-management plans and fire-management projects that support the prey of this protected bird.”

Hardes led “barn owl pellet” dissections at three locations in Flagstaff during the weeklong 2021 Flagstaff Festival of Science. Those locations included Wheeler Park, Bushmaster Park, and the Walnut Canyon National Monument Visitor Center. Participants who found particularly fascinating objects in the pellets they dissected were encouraged to share their finds with the other participants using a projection system Hardes had assembled by attaching a dissecting scope to a television screen.

“Working with the kids is what I enjoy the most,” Hardes said with a laugh in a recent interview about the 2021 barn owl pellet events. “Working for the Park Service you have a dual mission: preserving the resources but also sharing the resources with the public because they are the true owners of those resources. You’re not serving the public unless you are teaching the next generation.”

By: Elena Acoba

What do you see in an ocotillo? What do you think about a Sinagua cliff dwelling? Do you hear voices of the past at a Hohokam great house?

Participants will learn how to put voice to thoughts and experiences in a 2023 series of poetry workshops at several national park locations. Poetry in the Parks aims to encourage visitors to more deeply and personally connect with the parks’ nature, cultures, and histories.

The Great House at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument offers inspiration to poetry workshop participants (courtesy of NPS).

“When people go out into nature, they’re able to tap into their own personal truths,” said Jodie Hollander, a Colorado poet who ran six poetry workshops at Arizona locations this year. “There’s something about nature that brings up surprising truths or thoughts or feelings that we did not even know were there.”

Hollander, author of two poetry collections, was inspired to offer these workshops after a visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument. At the time, her Forest Service ranger husband worked at Coconino National Forest and she had an artist residency at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

“I thought, ‘God, this would be a wonderful destination for a poetry workshop,’” she recalled. Around the same time, Friends of Walnut Canyon National Monument approached her for help. After successful pilot workshops in 2019 at Walnut Canyon and Wupatki National Monument, the idea grew.


Poetry workshop participants reflect and write at Saguaro National Park (courtesy of NPS).

She ran this year’s sessions at Saguaro National Park, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, and Walnut Canyon National Monument. WNPA supported Hollander’s Casa Grande appearance and funded journals for the entire program’s 70-plus participants.

The 2023 schedule has not been set, but Arizona and California parks are clamoring for a slot.

Nature, especially public lands, provides “a sort of refuge from the rest of the world,” Hollander says, as does poetry.

“I want people to know that poetry, like our public lands, is for everyone, and it’s always available in some capacity when we need it.”

By: Elena Acoba

New grant funds Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative for the two largest nonprofit cooperating associations supporting our national parks.

October 29, 2022 – The National Park Foundation recently announced that 41 park partner organizations will receive a Strong Parks, Strong Communities grant including Eastern National and Western National Parks Association, the two largest nonprofit cooperating associations who support a combined total of 241 national parks across the country.

WNPA staff participates in the 2020 Saguaro Census at Saguaro National Park (courtesy of NPS).

This grant will enable these two organizations to identify gaps and opportunities to incorporate justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into their internal operations, partner relations, and service delivery. The results of this joint initiative will also create a toolkit of shared resources and learning opportunities for other park partners of all sizes to utilize in their own organizations.

“Our organizations are uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in integrating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion principles into our cultures and practices impacting millions of park visitors each year. As long-time partners of the National Park Service, we are also poised to help accelerate the goal of creating public lands that are accessible and inclusive of the people, stories, and experiences these places protect.” said Eastern National’s CEO, Kevin Kissling and Western National Parks Association’s CEO, Marie Buck, in a joint statement.

WNPA staff takes a break during the COVID-19 pandemic (courtesy of Brad Sutton).

The Strong Parks, Strong Communities grants help address park partner needs most urgent to the parks they serve. The grants will enable partner organizations to invest in strategic planning, community engagement, improving visitor experience in parks, increasing organizational relevancy and resiliency, and launching new fundraising campaigns.

“Philanthropy and partnership are essential to the success of America’s national parks,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “New funding will help park partners across the country to build capacity, improve strategic planning and fundraising initiatives, and to more deeply engage the communities and national parks they serve. Ultimately, investing in the growing community of park partners is a commitment to expanding and transforming the role philanthropy plays to ensure national parks reach their full potential.”

Mission Resilience Family Day event at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (courtesy of Brad Sutton).

Strong Parks, Strong Communities is a collective effort to grow national park philanthropy across the country. Working together on this initiative, the National Park Foundation, National Park Service, and Friends Alliance enhance local philanthropic organizations, bringing park philanthropy to an elevated level. The Strong Parks, Strong Communities capacity building grant program is made possible by the National Park Foundation Board of Directors.

About Eastern National

Eastern National is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit cooperating association, that promotes the public’s understanding and support of America’s national parks and other public trust partners by providing quality educational experiences, products, and services. Learn more at

About Western National Parks Association

Western National Parks Association (WNPA) is a nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service. WNPA supports parks across the West, developing products, services, and programs that enhance the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. Learn more at

About the National Park Foundation

The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and nonprofit partner to the National Park Service. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation raises private funds to help protect more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts and connect all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture, and rich history. Learn more at

Research for this article was far ranging.  The parks, monuments, and other archeological sites discussed sit on the ancestral homelands of the Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, the Navajo Nation, the Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ohkay Owingeh, the Pueblos of Kewa, Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Taos, Tesuque, Ysleta Del Sur of Texas, and Zia, as well as the Fort Sill, Jicarilla, Mescalero, San Carlos, White Mountain, and Yavapai-Apache Nations.

When I was a park ranger at Chiricahua National Monument, now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was lucky at seeing wildlife.  I saw coatimundis on my first or second day in the park – usually only visitors get to see them that quickly!  I also had a baby spotted skunk come up to my housing’s sliding glass door.  When I called my housemate over and we crouched down to see better, the baby got worried and sprayed the house.  Lucky, indeed.

The funniest wild animal encounter I had, though, was with a flock of turkeys.  I was leaving the park for the long Thanksgiving weekend and ahead of me the birds stood in the roadway.  I expected them to move quickly away from my approaching car, but instead they waddled in front for a long while.  Letting me ponder the story from Juan Nentvig, a Jesuit who wrote between 1750 and 1767, about the name Chiricahua coming from an Opata word that means wild turkey, or range of wild turkeys.  As well as letting me reflect on the fact that I hadn’t yet seen many wild turkeys in the time leading up to the European-American tradition of gorging on turkey.  Did the turkeys know that hunting on the NPS site is banned??

Turkey Whistle (Courtesy of NPS)

The turkeys that I saw at Chiricahua that day were likely Gould’s Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana).  I am not a birder, and more recently was shocked to find out that there are only two species of wild turkey in North America, but that the North American Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) has five subspecies.  More than that, there were 6 subspecies, but the South Mexican turkey (Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo) has gone extinct.  The ones in the Chiricahuas are likely Gould’s because the birds were also, almost, hunted out of the Chiricahua mountains.  It was just in the 1990s that the Arizona Game and Fish Department and US Forest Service worked with partners including the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Centro Ecologico de Sonora, to relocate wild Gould turkeys from Mexico and release them into mountain ranges in southern Arizona called, Sky Islands, including the Chiricahuas.

Turkey Blanket (Courtesy of NPS)

Turkeys were plentiful throughout North America, until over hunting brought multiple subspecies down.  And at least thirteen of our four corners NPS park units have turkey artifacts.  As an archeologist, this intrigues me: what was going on with them before the settler colonial hunting?  A recent (in archeological terms) flood of articles and research helped me gain a better understanding.  First, please check out Mary Weahkee’s YouTube video (2020) about making a turkey feather blanket.  Anyone who has been shocked at the price of a feather comforter will gain a new appreciation of the skill and time that goes into making cordage embedded with turkey feathers, and then weaving it together to make a fluffy, warm blanket or cloak for those Sky Island and Colorado Plateau winters. Clearly different from today’s packed-feather blankets, and even more impressive.

Bindings with Turkey added (Courtesy of NPS)

There are ancient villages where archeologists documented turkey pens, and other evidence of the rearing of these birds.  Egg shells are found at some NPS units, for instance.  Archeologists assumed from this evidence that ancestors were eating the birds.  After all, they figure prominently in feasting for those of Western European decent.  Historic documents report that Coronado, the Spanish explorer and conqueror, encountered turkeys at the Pueblo of Zuni where “The Indians tell me that they do not eat these in any of the seven villages, but keep them merely for the sake of procuring feathers. I do not believe this, because they are very good and better than those of Mexico” (Ramusio, 1606; translated by Schorger 1966). Coronado did not take people at their word, but I do.  Turkey bones are not usually found in trash mounds, and when we listen to descendant communities today, we are again told that turkeys were not usually on the menu.  In fact, they were treated as sacred, and it is again their feathers that tell the story best.

New Mexico Zuni archeologist and anthropologist, Edmond Ladd, worked for the NPS for decades.  Ladd’s master’s thesis focused on ethno-ornithology, and later work included a chapter on this topic in Stars Above, Earth Below: American Indians and Nature (1998).  Ladd shares that the turkey is a revered bird, with its feathers being used alongside eagle feathers on prayer sticks.

Wild Turkey captured on a trail cam (Courtesy of NPS)

Recent research by archeologists uses advanced technology to look at the nuances of turkey husbandry pre-Contact. For instance, Conrad and colleagues (2016) used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to identify when eggshells were broken, to try to identify intentionality in breakage versus hatching.  Many others have been spurred on by the research Camilla Speller (2009, 2010) has done on domesticated turkey DNA.  While the commercially available turkey today is descended from the now-extinct South Mexican turkey (Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo), the turkeys found in archeological contexts are a separate line, descended primarily from the Eastern (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) with some genetic input from the Rio Grande turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia).  Little evidence of the wild Merriam’s Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) is found, indicating that the Ancestral Puebloans did mix a few local birds into their flocks, but for the most part, traded a distinct, single lineage for all purposes, including feathers.

As for any Thanksgiving dinners this month, I think back to that Coronado quote – while he apparently unceremoniously ate the revered turkeys of Zuni Pueblo, he described them more favorably than the South Mexican turkey (Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo).  And the South Mexican subspecies is the one that commercial turkeys are descended from today.  I’ve never been a big fan of turkey, and maybe this is the reason…  Either way, this November, I recognize the enduring presence of Indigenous people on these lands, and I give them thanks to be able to learn about, work on, and share regarding their traditional lands and ways.

Suggestions for further reading: Mary Weahkee: ; JAS Special issue – Turkey husbandry and domestication: Recent scientific advances, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2016), ; Stars Above, Earth Below: American Indians and Nature (1998)

Sharlot Hart, Archeologist, NPS Southern Arizona Office

A family enjoys taking a selfie. (Courtesy Brad Sutton)

Educators have known for years that helping children develop core social and emotional strengths, like self-regulation, self-awareness and social awareness, is necessary for students to succeed in school and other areas of life. That’s why two years into the pandemic, which educators have said has resulted in a significant loss of progress in academic and social-emotional learning,  Casa Grande Ruins National Monument held a family-day event in March called Mission: Resilience.

More than 1,300 children and families participated in the event, which sought to strengthen children’s mastery of six tenets of resiliency—optimism, self-regulation, self-awareness, self-management, connection, and strength of character—through a host of fun activities. In support of Mission: Resilience, Western National Park Association funded staff training on social-emotional learning.

“Over the past two years, we’ve all had a hard go of it,” said Sara Sutton, education coordinator at Casa Grande Ruins NM who developed the program. “We wanted children to know they can learn ways to handle whatever life throws at them.”


A child showing off her pitch pot. (Courtesy of Brad Sutton)

At a character development activity station, children made clay pinch pots to encourage reflection on their own personal strengths. To demonstrate self-awareness, they took selfies with the Great House, a four-story adobe structure, as a backdrop and then shared a personal attribute that is a source of pride. In a lesson on optimism, children were reminded that they have the choice to adjust to disappointment and difficult circumstances after learning how plants, animals and the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People had to adapt to survive.


Precious Vincente showcasing a game. (Courtesy of Brad Sutton)

In an activity on self-regulation, Precious Vincente, a member of the Gila River Indian Community (Akimel O’odham) and a conservation legacy cultural education intern, taught children and families about games that were played by the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People and their descendants, the O’odham. The Ko’omai (women’s game) and Gins (men’s game), played after a hard day’s work, gave the desert people a chance to connect with family and friends.

The games were played with pieces made of arrow weed and cactus rib. Each piece had an assortment of markings representing different values, or points. The first person to score the target amount of points was the winner, and prizes were awarded.

“Games aren’t just all about fun but are a tool to help self-regulate,” said Precious. “We all have different ways of coping with stress, whether it be art, music, or even just taking a walk.”

A child stands in awe of the ruins. (Courtesy of Brad Sutton).

Casa Grande Ruins NM protects the multistory Great House and the ruins of other ancient structures built by the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People over 800 years ago. There are six traditionally associated tribes that trace their ancestry to Casa Grande Ruins NM: Ak-Chin Community; Gila River Indian Community (Akimel O’odham); Hopi; Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community; Tohono O’odham Nation; and Pueblo of Zuni.

“Resilience is a challenging idea to translate into something easy to understand for young children,” said Sutton, “but we used examples of daily setbacks they could understand, like forgetting a school lunch or missing the school bus, and then we suggested ways they could manage their frustration or disappointment.”

She added, “By drawing on the resiliency of our site’s resources, we hope kids will tap into the resiliency within themselves and ultimately see Casa Grande Ruins and other national park sites as places of healing.”


Families gathered at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument this past March to help children develop core social and emotional strengths, like self-regulation, self-awareness and social awareness. The result, was a fun-filled day of learning!

(Tucson, AZ) August 23, 2022Western National Parks Association (WNPA) is now accepting submissions for its awards, grants, and scholarships. All submissions must be completed electronically through the WNPA web portal by Sept. 19, 2022. Recipients will be announced the week of Nov. 7, 2022.

“WNPA is seeking nominations and applications for scientific, historical, and social science research in national parks to help advance their management, preservation, and interpretation,” says Marie Buck, CEO. “We honor and support individuals who have devoted their lives to advancing our national parks in myriad ways and seek careers with the National Park Service (NPS) and like organizations.

“WNPA celebrates diversity, equity, and accessibility in national parks and the workplace. We welcome nominations and research proposals that exemplify and recognize these values,” adds Buck.

Submission information for all categories is provided below.


Each year, WNPA honors individuals and organizations that spread awareness of WNPA and national parks, conduct exceptional research in parks, and engage the public in the national park ideals through high-quality educational and interpretive materials and programs. Learn about the awards and submit a nomination.


The Nature’s Classroom grant increases access to national parks for underrepresented K–12 youth. This grant aids educators in bringing the national parks to their classrooms, and their students to national parks.  Learn more and apply.


WNPA supports research by providing grants for projects that benefit national parks’ management, preservation, and interpretation. There are multiple awards in varying amounts available in this category.

Grant projects must originate in one of over 70+ WNPA-affiliated parks in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. For a list of affiliate parks, visit WNPA / Discover Our Parks.  All fields of scholarly research are supported, including:

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Botany
  • Citizen Science
  • Ecology
  • Geology
  • History
  • Natural Story
  • Social Science
  • Zoology

For research grant funding criteria and guidelines, download the request for proposal.  


Scholarships are available to support individuals who wish to establish careers that increase workforce diversity in the National Park Service, similar government agencies, or nonprofit cultural or natural heritage conservation organizations. Two scholarships valued at $2,500 each will be awarded. Learn more about scholarship offerings and apply.

About WNPA

Western National Parks Association (WNPA) helps make the national park experience possible for everyone. As a nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service (NPS), WNPA supports parks across the West, developing products, services, and programs that enhance the visitor experience, understanding, and appreciation of national parks. Since 1938 WNPA has worked to connect 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. Learn more at