Welcome to the second issue of our Focus on Friends series. We’re keeping the ball rolling, highlighting an incredible group who supports several national parks in southeast Utah…

The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks (FOACP) is a friends group that works with the NPS Southeast Utah Group (SEUG), made up of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments.

FOACP’s roots can be traced back to a man named Bates Wilson, who served as superintendent of Arches National Monument from 1949-1972. Wilson was also instrumental in the establishment of Canyonlands National Park and he became the park’s first superintendent in 1964. Wilson’s son, Tug, inherited his father’s passion for the parks of southeast Utah and founded FOACP in 2007. The friends group became a 501c3 in 2010.

Their mission? To connect people to places in ways that continues Bates Wilson’s values of exploration, collaboration, and stewardship of Southeast Utah National Parks and Monuments.

I had the pleasure of speaking recently with Joette Langianese and Phil Brueck. Joette is the Executive Director of FOACP, and Phil is a retired NPS manager (and former chair of the FOACP Executive Council) who is now a member of the fundraising committee. It became abundantly clear during our phone call that FOACP is a unique group. They are incredibly dedicated, organized, and ambitious, with an impressive list of accomplishments.

From an organizational standpoint, FOACP has a formal Philanthropic Partnership Agreement with the NPS Southeast Utah Group. FOACP is a fundraising partner with the NPS SEUG and assists the parks with building programs to support their missions.

Joette and Phil talked at length about some of the organizational challenges that friends groups can face. FOACP started small and has steadily grown over the years. Predictably, as the group has expanded, so has the bureaucracy.

“An annual work plan, a donor recognition plan, a fundraising committee plan, an endowment agreement, a property use agreement, an intellectual property use agreement…” Joette rattles them off. These are just a few of the documents Joette had to get in order recently, a far cry from the shorter, simple agreements of ten years ago.

However, both Joette and Phil recommend having a formal agreement with the NPS, despite the bureaucratic hurdles. An agreement allows their friends group to raise money for the park and use the NPS arrowhead on their website and marketing materials. Joette sits down regularly with NPS leadership at the parks to develop an annual work plan and work through the steps. It’s a lot of work but FOACP’s many successes are a testimony to the benefit of hard work.

When asked about those successes, Joette cites the group’s Youth Works in the Parks program, which caters to underserved Salt Lake City area, high school age youth. Their camp gives participants the opportunity to experience national parks and the southeast Utah landscape through outdoor education and service projects. The young attendees spend time with land managers and outfitters and learn about potential job opportunities in natural and cultural resource management.

FOACP’s latest accomplishment is a little different from their youth program. And it’s a big bite. Thanks to ongoing donations and outstanding support from the park’s cooperating association, they recently purchased a house in Moab for NPS employee housing… at a purchase price over one million dollars. Moab, like many places across the United States, has a marked lack of affordable rental options. So FOACP decided to take the bull by the horns on this one. The purchase of a house and the ongoing lease negotiations with the NPS are complicated to say the least. But FOACP knows it’s worth the hassle.

Phil and Joette have a wealth of experience and were generous sharing their time and the insights they have gained through their work with FOACP. Here are a few of the big takeaways:

  • Communication is a necessity. FOACP’s work is a testament to this. They must walk a fine line, balancing between the needs of the park and the support of the local community. It’s a delicate dance that requires a commitment to building relationships; with park employees, business owners, local government, and the community.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Join the NPF Friends Alliance. Joette speaks highly of the Alliance and clearly values the relationships and insights she gains from working with other groups. She says her interactions at annual Alliance meetings can provide a spark, make you feel less alone, and offer great advice.
  • Use the resources at hand. Work with the helpful folks in the NPS Partnerships Office. Those starting out fresh can face a mountain of paperwork and an overwhelming to-do list. Ask for help and use the NPS resources that are out there.
  • Hire staff. Both Joette and Phil advise new groups to hire staff as soon as possible. They credit the decision to hire an Executive Director as the key to FOACP’s growth. It can be hard to find the money, especially in the beginning, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Hopefully these tips, and FOACP’s passion for supporting the parks of southeast Utah, will encourage you to engage with the parks near you. For more information or to donate to FOACP, visit https://foacp.org/