Several years ago we had the opportunity to check off a great National Park bucket list item with a vacation to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. One of the most remarkable features in Yellowstone in called the Grand Prismatic Spring. The hot spring is the largest spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. The spring is 160 feet deep and larger than a football field at 370 feet in diameter. Water in the hot spring is emitted from a crack in the earth 121 feet below the surface of the spring. The water temperature at the surface is 160 degrees and the cycle of hot water rising up from the spring and cooling as it rises creates impressive bands of colors. Different color microorganisms survive at different temperatures so the spring has a deep blue center with successive rings in green, yellow, and orange. The striking beauty of the hot spring is so iconic you will find its image on brochures, coffee mugs, t-shirts, socks, stickers, keychains, mouse pads, and many other items in Yellowstone gift shops.

It takes several days to try to see all of Yellowstone and I was looking forward to the day we would visit the Midway Geyser Basin and see the Grand Prismatic Spring. When we arrived, we were impressed with the size of the spring and the beautiful colors around the rim, but as I looked around I was surprised most by what I didn’t see. I didn’t see any elevated position from which we could get the iconic bird’s eye view of the spring that is on all the merchandise and brochures. There was a trail nearby along the base of an adjacent hillside, so we hiked the trail only to find there was no further trail to ascend the hillside and overlook the spring. It was clear that many people had made their own trails up the steep hillside to get the best view. I’m not going to say whether we did or didn’t try to find a better viewpoint because there were many signs discouraging such trekking. I wondered, however, if there was anything that could be done about this predicament.

When we returned home I reached out to the Yellowstone Park staff to express my interest and support for the creation of a trail to provide a better viewpoint, and also reached out to Yellowstone Forever, which is a nonprofit that supports the park. Yellowstone Forever supports the park in many ways, including wildlife preservation, education programs and funding various park projects such as trail improvements. I don’t know if my calls did any good, though I suspect I was not alone, because if you go visit Yellowstone today you can use the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail to view the spring from a safe viewpoint atop the adjacent hillside.

So what is the point of that story? Philanthropy probably played a role in the development of the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail, just as it does in park development in our communities. Sure, the federal government runs the National Park System and the City of Tyler operates and maintains our local parks, but philanthropy can help these organizations address priority projects faster and better than tax revenues and usage fees alone. Private philanthropy prompted the construction of the Children’s Park in Tyler, the recent Bergfeld Park renovations, and the creation of the Bullard Kid’s Park. These projects may have eventually happened on their own, but with personal enthusiasm and private fundraising initiated by Jennifer Carson, Don Warren, and the Bullard Rotary Club, respectively, these projects are a reality today and not just items on a future project wish list. If you are out and about this summer enjoying our local, state, and national parks, take a moment to read the plaques that recognize the individuals who contributed to the development of the facilities you are able to enjoy. Often these plaques will also memorialize or honor men and women who volunteered or spent their careers preserving these important places. Perhaps making a contribution to a park foundation or supporting a local park project with a donation or the purchase of a commemorative brick or plaque is your next best opportunity to Give Well.