5 things I've learned from...defending our National Parks

Nicole Sara Sivens
June 25, 2018
5 min read
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A few years ago, Keith Eshleman and Sevag Kazanci -- two guys in their thirties who met while helping build the brand TOMS -- started to wonder why we’ve become disconnected from nature.

In 2014, they signed up to volunteer at a couple local California state parks. “When we arrived, the only other people were a few bored retirees,” the two recall. “It was the same when we returned the next time, and the next, until we thought, ‘Oh dang, has our generation forgotten about the parks?'

They had, indeed, stumbled upon something big. Over the next few months, the friends connected the dots, uncovering a real need for activists at the national parks, and an eager, adventure-seeking demographic just waiting to be educated on how to get involved.

Keith Eshelman with Family

You get out what you put in

Essentially, we are asking folks to look at their connection with the outdoors in a different light – and just like any relationship, it takes work. Step back and look at what the outdoors provides for millions of people: a spot to refuel, reset, or just relax and enjoy. We are simply asking folks to think about what they can do in return. These resources can stand the test of time, but we need to be mindful of our impact as visitors. Our mission is to leave it better than you found it. That can be a single event, like cleaning up a campground after you use it, or a total lifestyle shift that includes making moves toward preservation.

Take the leap

I have always loved the Mark Twain quote that said something like ‘twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.’ As long as we keep pushing the boundaries and continue to find new, creative ways to engage people with parks we are making progress. That was something we definitely picked up at TOMS over the years; be genuine, do your work with purpose, creatively connect with your customers, and drive the business with the mission first, product second. And as we see more and more of the next generation get behind this ethos, we realize that’s where the dream really lives. I think if we can mobilize kids to look at their relationship with the outdoors we will really be making progress, just like TOMS did with international aid and giving.

City living and the great outdoors compliment each other

I must say we have met some of the most genuinely awesome and humble people on this journey, especially through volunteering. I find they all have a few things in common: a calming sense of presence, appetite for adventure, and positive outlook on conservation. Additionally, many of these folks contribute a lot of their lives to a bigger purpose, and that’s massively honorable. I’d like to think that our brand could represent a way to balance out the city and remote nature. There is time needed for both, and each one eventually fuels the need for the other. So we try to bridge that gap and connect the two worlds. Parks need cityfolk to sustain operation and get support, while urban dwellers need parks to reset and get a breather from life.

Make it work with what you have at the moment

It really varies from project to project, and from season to season. National Parks are living places. Big changes, natural and unnatural, such as landslides, floods, or fires can happen anytime and completely shuffle priorities. Similarly, budgets change from year to year, and nonprofits rely on donors and grants that aren’t guaranteed. The great dilemma in conservation is that projects need to take place over decades to be effective, but politically and financially they are typically only supported from year-to-year. Parks never really have the long-term financial and political security to achieve all of their goals.

Fewer, better might be the way to go

We work directly with 32 non-profit conservancies around the US and Canada that are affiliated with specific National Parks. We also work directly with national organizations like the National Park Foundation and the Sierra Club. We encourage folks to think globally and act locally with their involvement. Try to find a local club or organization in your hometown that is looking for volunteers and leaders and get involved! National Parks get a lot of attention, but regional, state, and local parks are just as important. So with that in mind, we are trying to really connect folks with conservancies that are in their backyards. It’s not as much quantity of parks but the quality of connection that matters.

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