Our story began in Boulder Creek one early spring morning in 1973. A group of park personnel and private citizens (including the Director and the Publicist for the Sempervirens Fund and the granddaughter of Andrew P. Hill) gathered in front of the Notary Public office to file Articles of Incorporation for a new cooperating association in the Santa Cruz Mountains. These nine people, Claude "Tony" Look, Curtis Mitchell, Denzil and Jeannie Verardo, Allen Jamieson, Donald Patton, David Bartlett, Robert Short and Mrs. Horace Laughlin, went on to form the first Board of Directors of the Santa Cruz Mountains Natural History Association, dedicated to furthering interpretation in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
During this first year, a handful of publications were "borrowed" from the Sempervirens Fund for sale on a consignment basis and a coffee pot was placed at Big Basin next to a box marked "Donations" with the hope that the donations would cover the cost of the coffee. That coffee pot alone turned a profit of 400% during the first year of operation!
In 1974, the Association began a training program for new park docents. For the rest of that decade, the sale of educational publications and the training of docents formed the nucleus of the Association's activities. Donations to State Parks were mostly in the form of slide projectors and video equipment for campfire centers and for the popular Junior Rangers program.
In the 1980′s, the role of the Association grew and changed significantly. The Association's budget grew from $10,000 in 1980 to $261,000 in 1987. The Nature Center at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park opened in 1984 and the Association provided the funds for the new exhibits and began producing both parks' maps for sale. That same year, the Association's first employee was hired. In October 1985, 1,000 people attended Native American Day, an event that celebrated the history, lifestyle and culture of our local Native Americans. This event, now called Ohlone Day, is still going strong and now hosts over 4,000 participants each year.
With State Parks' blessing, the Association began a project in 1987 to save the old lodge building at Big Basin by converting it into a museum for the entire California State Park System. Before this project had gotten off the ground, the concessionaire's building at Henry Cowell was vacated and threatened with demolition due to structural concerns. At State Parks' request, the Association suspended the museum project in Big Basin and began work to renovate the building at Henry Cowell. The building was rebuilt and now houses the Henry Cowell Nature Store, administrative offices, and a conference room.
In the 1990′s, the mission of the Association changed to mirror changes being made within State Parks. The Department of Parks and Recreation took over the responsibility for providing visitor education and training new docents. The Association began focusing on providing the financial resources to fund these interpretive and educational activities.
In 1996, the Association reorganized itself to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, completing its transformation with a new name, Mountain Parks Foundation.
Mountain Parks Foundation provided an elaborate 100-day schedule of activities in 2002 to celebrate the Centennial Celebration of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the oldest California State Park and, in 2003, MPF spearheaded the 100-year Anniversary of the 1903 visit of Teddy Roosevelt to Big Trees Park (now Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park).
During the following six years, projects were planned that are now in different stages of implementation including a Sandhills Visitor Center and Nature Store in the Henry Cowell Campground and a cooperative project with Sempervirens Fund – the renovation of the campfire center at Big Basin originally constructed by the California Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.
In 2008, Mountain Parks Foundation expanded its scope by signing a concessions contract with Department of Parks and Recreation for the Nature Store at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The concept of a cooperating association also acting as a concessionaire was a new idea for the Department of Parks and Recreation and it has proved successful for both entities. Currently, only one or two other cooperating associations inCaliforniahave concessions contracts.
The year 2009 brought political turmoil to the near-bankrupt state of California and large cuts in the Department of Parks and Recreation’s budget. Advocacy for California State Parks was a major theme throughout the year leading to the initiation of Proposition 21 for the November 2010 ballot. Proposition 21, had it passed, would have increased vehicle taxes by $18 per vehicle in exchange for granting all residents of California driving vehicles with CA licenses free entrance to all California State Parks. Unfortunately, Proposition 21 did not pass and the health of California State Parks is now in severe jeopardy.
(Special thanks to Janet Wood-Duncan for use of her Brief History of the Santa Cruz Mountains Natural History Association and to Jeannie Kegebein, past Executive Director of Mountain Parks Foundation.)