the Public through Interpretation and Stewardship of America’s
Each year, millions of people visit
America’s national parks, forests, wildlife refuges,
and other public lands. At many of these areas, not-for-profit
partner organizations, known as “cooperating” or “interpretive” associations,
enhance these visits by providing information and other visitor
services. The associations provide high-quality, agency-approved
publications, maps, videos, theme-related merchandise, and
educational programs to help visitors understand the sites’ natural
and cultural significance. Associations produce or purchase
for sale the finest publications and other merchandise related
to the themes and resources of the areas they serve. And
the revenues from purchases at a cooperating or interpretive
association sales outlet help support additional interpretation,
education, and visitor service programs.
History of Service
National parks led the way in creating cooperating associations—a model
of public-private partnership almost as old as the National Park Service itself.
In 1920, just four years after the founding of the National Park Service, Yosemite
established the first cooperating association. It was clear, even then, that
the government could not furnish sufficient educational and visitor information
to satisfy a growing appetite for park publications. The success of the Yosemite
Association sparked an interest in establishing non-government associations
in other national parks. Today, there are 65 national park cooperating associations,
serving the nearly 400 areas of the National Park System.
federal, and even some state and local public land management
agencies, have followed the National Park Service example of
working in cooperation with nonprofit organizations to provide
interpretation and visitor services. A directory of most of
these organizations is available through the Association of
Partners for Public Lands.
concessions, which are for-profit commercial operations, cooperating
and interpretive associations are founded for educational purposes.
They are governed by
volunteer boards of directors, usually comprised of individuals
from the community. They operate under a formal agreement with
the agency they serve. Although their primary role is to enhance
public knowledge and understanding of America’s public
lands, associations also donate substantial financial support
to their agencies. Proceeds from sales and other association
revenues help fund publications; museum, library, and research
activities; and other education and conservation efforts. For
example, in 2002, National Park Service cooperating associations
alone returned $26.5 million in aid to the national parks.