Eastern National and Western National Parks Association Receive Capacity Building Grant from National Park Foundation

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 at Saguaro Census
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.

Covid-19 Pinata
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.”

Family Day at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
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 www.easternnational.org

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 www.wnpa.org

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 www.nationalparks.org.

(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 www.wnpa.org.

Marie Buck, former chief operating officer of Grand Canyon Conservancy (GCC) and an Arizonan for most of her life, has been appointed CEO of Western National Parks Association (WNPA). Marie was selected following a national search to lead WNPA, which since its founding in 1938 has provided more than $126 million to its 70+ partner parks to fund educational programs, initiatives, and scientific research.

At GCC, Marie not only managed operations and special activities that supported one of America’s most iconic parks, she served on its board of directors. Prior to GCC, she was senior director of business operations at Phoenix Raceway (NASCAR) for 20 years, leading a $180 million facility modernization and taking on many duties of the president during her final years there.

WNPA’s new CEO Marie Buck has taken 30 whitewater rafting trips down the Colorado River.

Outside the office, she’s lived much of her life outdoors enjoying camping, hiking, fishing, and rafting. By her count, she’s rafted the Colorado River 30 times through the Grand Canyon, and finds immense pleasure in sharing that passion with others as a guide.

The following is a Q&A with Marie, who began her tenure with WNPA on July 11.

Tell us a little about your background?

I’m the only child of Swedish immigrant parents and was born in San Diego. I moved to Arizona when I was 7 years old. I graduated from Arizona State University (ASU) with a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Accountancy. During the pandemic, I got my CPA license—just to have it.

What’s your favorite Monopoly piece, and why?

I think the car, because it can race fast around the board.

Desert, Mountains or Beach?

This isn’t fair, because I like them all. I would have to say desert, because this is my home and I love the desert so much.

A person you admire, and why?

When I was at ASU, I worked in a male-dominated athletics department. I was in my 20s and had no experience navigating that type of environment. I was shy and introverted. Dr. Christine Wilkinson was my supervisor, and while she wasn’t a mentor, I learned so much watching her. She led by example and was just so impressive with how she navigated that culture. She was professional and articulate, and spoke her mind, standing up for what was right but not in an offensive way. Rather than fight the culture, she built collaborative partnerships across the organization and the community. She was the daughter of famous ASU football coach William (Bill) Kajikawa, so she had the foundation to navigate that male-dominated arena.

Marmots became Marie’s favorite animal during hikes with her Dad in Sequoia National Park.

You found a lottery ticket worth $10 million. What do you do?

This is a trick question, right? Because I found it, it’s not mine. I would try to figure out who it belonged to, because I wouldn’t want to cash it in if it didn’t belong to me. If I couldn’t find the owner, I would donate the money to charity.

What’s your favorite animal, and why?

The marmot. When my Dad and I used to hike the higher altitudes of Sequoia National Park, we would see them. They’re like big beavers with no tail, and they’re just so playful and cute. They used to terrorize our camp, but I love them.

When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Either an astronaut or a park ranger. Both are explorers. But I found later in life that my super power was creating life-changing experiences for other people as an administrator. Seeing someone experience the outdoors and making a deep connection is what really excites me and motivates me.

What is your favorite type of music?

I was in high school in the mid-’80s, so I’m going to have to say heavy metal hair bands.

Favorite band?

I’ve never missed a Bon Jovi concert!

Sweets, says the new CEO, are her “downfall.”

Favorite song?

“Purple Rain” by Prince. It’s very soothing and spiritual for me. I like to listen to it at night on the river.

Worst song?

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Hate it. Don’t know why.

Salty or sweet?

Sweet. I love sweets. They are my downfall.

Favorite quote?

“You are never too small to make a difference.” Greta Thunburg.

Favorite hobby? 

Rafting in the Grand Canyon. I’ve been fortunate to work as a guide for a commercial company every summer for most summers. For 17-18 days, I just disconnect from the world and get into a state of just being in every moment that I’m in the canyon. I also love helping people experience the canyon and share that connection.

What do you love about your work?

I love that we create experiences. Whether they are on a rafting trip, or hiking, or visiting a park, and people learn something about cultural resources, indigenous people or just make that connection with the natural environment—it changes them emotionally and impacts them for a lifetime.

Marie Buck. Courtesy of Barbara Sherman

(Tucson, AZ) July 13, 2022—Western National Parks Association (WNPA) announced today that Marie Buck has been named chief executive officer (CEO).

Buck was most recently chief operating officer (COO) for the Grand Canyon Conservancy (GCC) where she successfully managed operations, organization strategies, and systems. She previously served on the board of directors for GCC. As the senior director of business operations at Phoenix Raceway (NASCAR), Marie’s leadership was instrumental in the $180 million facility modernization project resulting in substantial increases in revenue and customer satisfaction.

“Marie has an impressive record of success leading and operating complex organizations in operations, human resources, retail, programs, and capital and business development projects,” said Les Corey, chairman of the WNPA board of directors. “She knows what it takes to successfully move WNPA forward, building upon the organization’s strong foundation and reputation, expanding partnerships, diversifying the organization’s revenue streams, and enhancing the visitor experience in the 71 national parks we serve.”

Buck has lived in Arizona most of her life and is an avid outdoorswoman. She enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, and whitewater rafting, and has worked 30 rafting trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

“WNPA is a nationally respected organization supporting the visitor experience and parks at the highest level. I’m excited to be leading such a visionary team,” Buck said. “The key to our momentum coming out of a pandemic is to remain fiscally sound and expand on the collaborative relationships WNPA has established with the parks and monuments with which we work, and ensure the highest service levels for all stakeholders. We must leverage our existing strengths and explore innovative approaches to connect visitors to their park experience that will create lifelong protectors of our natural and cultural resources.”

Buck succeeds Jim Cook who is retiring after more than 11 years.

Read more about Marie’s passion for public lands here.

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, 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: to create advocates who want to preserve and protect these special places for everyone for all time. Learn more at www.wnpa.org.