2019 Giving Back Issue: Two Decades of Giving to Glacier

For the past 20 years, lodging guests have contributed a half-million dollars to the nonprofit Glacier Conservancy through a unique donation program

By Tristan Scott
Clements Mountain as viewed from near the Logan Pass Visitor Center along Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park on June 5, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As Glacier National Park officials reflect on another year of near-record popularity among visitors, the nonprofit philanthropic organization that supports the Crown Jewel of the Continent is marking two decades of giving — a degree of generosity made possible through long-standing partnerships and a renewed focus on the park’s priorities.

Entering 2020, the Glacier National Park Conservancy is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Glacier Fund — the Conservancy’s predecessor — and recently published its Field Guide to Park Project Priorities, a list of initiatives it hopes to fulfill through private fundraising. The projects cover the three primary goals of the conservancy — preservation, education and research — and include short-term and long-term objectives, from creating safe opportunities to view wildlife to rehabilitating trails.

The conservancy picks its annual projects in partnership with the National Park Service and collects private donations to fund the programs and projects that the federal agency cannot necessarily tackle on its own.

Standing on the shoulders of “those visionary leaders” who launched the Glacier Fund, the Conservancy is poised to fund a record 75 grant projects in 2020, totaling over $2.5 million in private support.

For Melissa Baker, director of guest experience for the Glacier Park Collection under the Pursuit brand (previously Glacier Park Inc.), owning and operating numerous businesses in and around the park has furnished the company with a unique opportunity to connect guests to the Conservancy and its work.

With a professional relationship to the park dating back nearly 20 years, Baker knows firsthand the powerful impact that Glacier National Park has on those who spend time there. That’s why she’s a champion of the “add-on” program, which allows guests at Pursuit lodges to make small but critical donations to the Conservancy.

“We tell every guest that checks in to our lodges how the work that the Conservancy does is making a difference, and how they can donate $1 per room per night through us,” Baker said. “When we explain how their donations go directly back to the Park, hardly anyone opts out of supporting.”

Those dollars add up, she said, noting that total donations have amounted to $500,000.

“Being at the gateway to Glacier, it’s our responsibility to play a part in keeping the story of the park alive,” Baker said.

Guests sleep well knowing they’ve contributed to an important cause, Baker added, whether they’re staying at the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier; the Belton Chalet in West Glacier; the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park; the Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish; the St. Mary Lodge and Resort; the Apgar Village Lodge; Motel Lake McDonald; or the West Glacier Motel and Cabins.

All of those accommodations are operated under the Pursuit brand, and guests should know that those extra dollars are well spent, according to Adam Sommers, who manages business partnerships for the Glacier Conservancy.

“All of our dollars and donations pour straight back into the park,” Sommers said. About one-third of the Conservancy’s annual donations go to its “signature projects” identified by the national park and stakeholders as essential to the vitality of the park, and range from wildlife migration research to the Native American Speaks program.

The remaining two-thirds of donations from Pursuit guests (and all other donors) go to projects related to preservation, research and education. The Conservancy supports trail maintenance for the more than 700 miles of trails that allow hikers and horseback riders to explore the park. The nonprofit also spearheads research projects for wildlife monitoring, with the help of many volunteers. Last year, the Conservancy mobilized 247 citizen scientists who contributed more than 7,000 hours to surveying species at risk in the park.

As for education, it’s one of the Conservancy’s top priorities, Sommers said. The organization supports school field trips, including providing buses and programming, and funds the salaries of about a dozen park rangers who are focused on educational programs.

“We fund about 90 percent of education activities in the park,” Sommers said. “Essentially, we support all of the programs that make Glacier, Glacier.”

For more on how to support the Glacier National Park Conservancy, visit glacier.org.

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