As we know, necessity is the mother of invention. And so, we find ourselves in 2003, when a few former park rangers stepped forward to counter the misguided implementation of new National Park Service (NPS) policies and a new management agenda.

With the support of the Rockefeller Family Fund, Destry Jarvis, former assistant director of the NPS and vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, analyzed the impact of proposed policy changes and the new President’s Management Agenda on national parks. These included the Bush Administration’s Clear Skies initiative, utilizing R.S. 2477 to open old roads to travel, and a push for competitive sourcing. Destry’s report demonstrated that many of these changes would be detrimental to America’s national parks. Knowing current NPS employees were unable speak publicly and freely, Destry turned to NPS retirees, who had expertise from their long careers in the National Park System and an enduring passion for the mission of the NPS.

The findings of Destry’s report were presented to the nation during a press conference given by three NPS retirees: Bill Wade, Rick Smith, and Mike Finley. Their work caught the attention of 28 other retirees who joined a letter sent the President and Secretary of Interior shortly after the press conference. Again, their efforts caught the attention of the press and other retirees, and it was resubmitted with 60 signatures. Word continued to spread of the work they were doing, and within 18 months, more than 360 retirees had joined the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

As more retirees joined the Coalition, the leadership recognized that by limiting membership to retirees, the Coalition was missing important expertise and experience that current employees could provide. In 2015, the Coalition changed its name to the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and expanded membership to current NPS employees. A few years later, volunteers were invited to join. Now, 20 years after that initial press conference, the Coalition’s numbers have grown to include more than 2,400 members.

Janet McDowell has written a detailed history of the events that led to the evolution of today’s Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, so I will not recount all those milestones. However, one action worth noting is an NPS employee survey administered in October 2003 with help from the new retiree group. The professionally administered, statistically significant survey demonstrated NPS employees were operating with low morale, in part due to persistent understaffing. Twenty years later, the same issues continue to be reported through objective tools, such as the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the Partnership for Public Service’s annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Governmentrankings, and NPS’ own 2018 NPS Voices Tour Summary Report.

The passion, dedication, and commitment of NPS employees to the agency’s mission of preserving our nation’s natural, cultural, and historical treasures is unquestionable. This Coalition is a testament to that dedication. That dedication remains even when the organizational leadership, personnel systems, funding, or administration has fallen short in providing the organizational structure these dedicated employees deserve.

As the Coalition celebrates its 20th anniversary, it has rededicated itself to supporting the employees who carry on the NPS mission and are truly our most valuable resource. We plan to make this “Year of the Employee” one of the best yet.