Glacier Conservancy exceeds fundraising mark

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A trio of billy goats traverse the slopes as rain pours down in Glacier Park recently.

During a year in which visitation to Glacier National Park shattered its previous record by 24 percent, the park’s fundraising arm also eclipsed its past high mark in donations — taking in $2.2 million from donors in 2016.

The Glacier National Park Conservancy’s nearly 50 percent increase in donations over 2015 was in part a result of record-breaking crowds pouring into Glacier during the National Park Service’s centennial year.

But Nikki Eisinger, the conservancy’s director of development, said that success also owes to the long-time donors from the Flathead Valley and across the country that stepped up to support the nonprofit’s programs.

“Part of the big picture was that we had a handful of major donors come through last year, people who come to Glacier on their vacations and people that have noticed the wear and tear on the park,” Eisinger said Monday.

She cited one donor, fond of backpacking through Glacier’s million-acre landscape of densely forested mountains and valleys, ponied up $100,000 to rehabilitate all the toilets in the backcountry.

“He just noticed, of his own volition, that the park needed help in the backcountry and stepped forward to help do that,” she said. “That’s the kind of donor I think we’re finding more now.”

While it also operates three bookstores within the park boundaries, the conservancy takes in the bulk of its revenue from individual donations.

Those donations totaled $1.1 million in 2014 and $1.6 million in 2015. Last year, the park’s 2.9 million visitors notched the third-straight visitation record in Glacier, and Eisinger said many of those first-time visitors eagerly opened their wallets to further the park’s mission.

“We’re getting a lot of tourists because of all the public awareness of the glaciers melting, and that brings in a lot of out-of-staters who are interested in climate change and public spaces and maintaining our ecosystems,” she noted.

Those visitors provided much of the $40,000 the group took in from cash donations at the gate during four “fee-free days” last August, Eisinger added, when the Park Service officially celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Yet the majority of the group’s donors are full- or part-time residents of the Flathead Valley and surrounding areas. Eisinger said they make up 65 to 70 percent of total donations.

THE CONSERVANCY is the result of a 2013 merger between two former fundraising groups affiliated with the park. It funds major maintenance projects, including building rehabilitation and trail work, during the summer season, while also helping to fund visitor programs and research conducted in the “Crown of the Continent.”

One of those initiatives was finally realized last month, when Glacier and Canada’s Waterton Lake National Park became certified as the world’s first trans-boundary, international “Dark Sky Preserve.” The group contributed more than $58,000 to the years-long effort to officially recognize the parks’ starlit skies, which remain relatively free of light pollution.

Since it was formed, the conservancy has reported funding $4.8 million in projects with Glacier National Park — with nearly $2.2 million of that being distributed to 46 projects in 2016.

Last week, officials with Glacier and the conservancy met to identify and prioritize grant proposals for the upcoming season. The park had asked for $2.5 million for 70 projects it wants funded, although Eisinger said they revised that down to a goal of $2.2 million in funding for 2017.

Amy Dempster, the conservancy’s director of marketing and communications, also acknowledged that the visitation bump in 2016 corresponded to the group’s record-breaking fundraising last year. But she added that as Glacier’s deferred maintenance continues to grow — last estimated at $179.8 million in a 2016 Park Service report — her organization will keep spreading the message that the park can’t address its needs on its own.

“People are becoming very aware that the park’s budgets are not increasing, and there’s a real need to be able to handle the increased number of visitors and the increased needs that the park has,” Dempster said. “I think as the awareness for that grows and as more people explore our parks and really want to protect them and preserve them for the future, they want to know how to get involved.”

For more information, visit https://glacier.org.

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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