PHOTO: Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park. (Photo via Flickr/Tony Hisgett)
2016 was a big year for America's national parks as the National Park Service (NPS) celebrated its centennial.
On Thursday, public charity Tourism Cares revealed its gift to the NPS, donating 5,000 hours, or the equivalent of $117,000 over the course of last year.
In total, about 775 travel industry volunteers participated.
"Tourism Cares volunteers demonstrate a real love and appreciation for the parks, fostered by knowledge of how important they are to the tourism industry," said NPS Tourism Program Manager Donald Leadbetter in a statement. "That authentic connection was visibly demonstrated in the quantity and quality of the work completed by the groups."
Leadbetter said his group worked at Ellis Island to fill up multiple pallets worth of sandbags.
"Tourism Cares groups know how vital their volunteer work is and how appreciative the park staff are, and you really see it in the results."
In addition to Ellis Island, volunteer projects took place at Grand Canyon National Park, Atlanta's Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in Minneapolis, Mount Rainier National Park and the Statue of Liberty.
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Projects ranged from painting and installing willow fencing to aiding in soil bioengineering and were designed to help relieve some of the stress on an overmatched NPS staff.
For example, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area superintendent Jon Anifson said the Tourism Cares volunteers saved his staff hundreds of hours in labor by removing invasive plant species and sowing native ones.
The Mayflower Tours-led Centennial Tour Operator Program also raised $50,000 for the NPS. AmeriCan Adventures, Austin Adventures, Collette, Sunrise Tours, Un-Cruise Adventures, and Friendship Tours also participated in the program, donating a portion of each of their clients' tour fees.
While extensive, the volunteers' efforts only accounted for a fraction of the work necessary. Citing The Pew Charitable Trusts, Tourism Cares said maintenance needs across the country's national parks totals about $12 billion.