Anderson Design Group Interviews Mesa Verde Foundation!
Ancient Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park
As artists and wilderness explorers, our passion is to venture into the 63 American National Parks, photograph and document these wonderful natural places, and share our enthusiasm for our nation’s natural wonders by creating original, high-quality poster art.
Truly America’s Best Idea, the National Parks were created to preserve our nation’s natural beauty and cultural history. Each Park represents a significant chapter in a story that predates the United States. To do our part as stewards of the parks, we’re always seeking new opportunities to support the conservancies, associations, foundations, and friend groups that protect the parks.
To raise awareness for the important conservation activities in Mesa Verde National Park, we took some time this week to sit down with Shannon Clifford, Executive Director of Mesa Verde Foundation.
Mesa Verde Foundation
ADG: What is Mesa Verde Foundation? If you have an elevator pitch for what your group does, what would that be?
Shannon: The Mesa Verde Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit, philanthropic partner to Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde National Park is one of the 12 original UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is home to thousands of ancient artifacts and remnants of Ancestral Puebloans.
We work to secure funding for capital improvements, special projects, and educational endeavors that promote an understanding of Mesa Verde National Park’s cultural and natural resources.
Mesa Verde historic photo, provided by Mesa Verde Foundation
The Mesa Verde Foundation’s support facilitates the following:
- Conservation of the Park’s natural landscapes, resources, and wildlife
- Preservation of the Park’s archaeological and cultural treasures
- Education of visitors, surrounding communities, community stakeholders, and youth about the Park, its Native People, and the history of Southwestern Colorado
- Improving the ways visitors interact with the Park and the experiences they have as a result.
ADG: That’s wonderful! I understand you do great work with the National Park Service and within Mesa Verde National Park itself. However, your group also funds and manages programs and activities outside the Park, correct? What are some of those programs?
Shannon: As a philanthropic partner to Mesa Verde National Park, all our work benefits the Park in some way. We do offer educational opportunities and host fundraising events outside the Park, but our purpose is always to use these opportunities to further the mission of the Park. One example of this work is our monthly “Conversations from the Mesa” webinar series. The live webinar series is free and open to anyone interested in joining. The webinars offer presentations from Park staff, historians, local experts, and tribal members to educate others about the Park, its history, and its people.
Mesa Verde Webinar produced by Mesa Verde Foundation
ADG: How did the Mesa Verde Foundation get its start? What’s the story behind the birth of your group?
Shannon: The Mesa Verde Foundation was founded in 1997 to raise funds to support Park needs – the first was building a Visitor and Research Center near the Park’s entrance. The federal government cannot fully fund our National Parks, and Mesa Verde National Park alone faces over $70 million in maintenance backlogs. As a partner organization, we work to raise funds to assist with the Park’s priority projects.
A group carefully tours the park. Photo by Todd Bacon
ADG: Excellent, and what types of projects does your group work on each year? What are some of the projects you're most proud of?”
Shannon: Each year, Mesa Verde Park employees create a list of priority projects, and the Foundation works to raise funds to support these projects. Of course, additional projects often come up throughout the year, and we work to fund these as well.
Ancestral Lands Crew works on Puebloan site restoration
There are so many projects and programs that we are incredibly proud to support, and it is difficult to narrow it down to just a few; I will say that we are especially proud to have supported:
- The creation of the Visitor and Research Center
- The stabilization of some of the Park’s cliff dwellings
- The repatriation of Ancestral Puebloan human remains and sacred objects from the National Museum of Finland
- The creation of a new visitor film that tells the story of the Park from the perspective of members of its 26 affiliated pueblos and tribes
ADG: Those are quite the accomplishments! I understand your group helps fund and manage research projects and preservation work. What would an example of such a research project be? And why are research projects in our National Parks so important?
Shannon: Our Foundation does help to fund research projects and preservation work, but we only manage the funding of such projects. The Park’s staff members are the experts who manage the actual research projects and preservation work.
The Foundation is studying the effect of fire suppressant on the park's cultural history
Research is incredibly important for Mesa Verde because we are working on learning what works best before making decisions that will affect the long-term sustainability of the Park’s natural and cultural resources. For example, when parts of Cliff Palace, the Park’s largest and most renowned cliff dwelling, began to deteriorate, research needed to be done to determine the best way to preserve it. Our Foundation provided the funding needed to bring in architects and structural engineers to assess the conditions, determine the causes, and make treatment recommendations. The Foundation worked with the Park to create a long-term preservation plan from that three-year research project. Cliff Palace has been stabilized, and Ranger-led tours allow guests to experience it up close. The long-term preservation plan will ensure its stability long into the future.
ADG: Given the extensive list of projects your group is working on, how do you enlist the community’s help in these projects? Do you organize volunteers? Or how do you otherwise fund your work?
Shannon: The Mesa Verde Foundation has a very small staff of just one full-time and one part-time employee, so volunteers are essential to our success. Our board of directors is entirely made up of volunteers, and additional volunteers support our work by serving on planning committees.
Our work is funded through the generosity of others. Supporters provide funding by becoming members of our Fellows and Friends program and/or our Legacy Society, attending fundraising events, providing grants, and/or making individual contributions. Additionally, we receive funding from our Community Partners, who donate a portion of each sale or offer customers the opportunity to donate $1.00 during checkout.
ADG: What goes on in the educational side of Mesa Verde Foundation? What are some of the educational programs your team is invested in?
Shannon: One of our program goals is to assist with the education of visitors, surrounding communities, community stakeholders, and youth about the Park, its Native People, and the history of Southwestern Colorado and to champion educational programs for visitors and members of associated tribes. The Foundation works to attain this goal by funding interns and Ancestral Lands Crews in the Park, hosting our “Conversations from the Mesa” webinar series, presenting for the Four Corners Lecture Series, hosting annual in-depth tour opportunities, and creating and distributing biannual newsletters.
Mesa Verde virtual-exhibit provided by Mesa Verde Foundation
ADG: Looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals for the Mesa Verde Foundation? Where do you see yourselves in 5 years? Ten years? What do you hope to be working on a decade from now?
Shannon: The Mesa Verde Foundation plans to be here doing the work needed to support Mesa Verde National Park for decades to come. We hope to raise more money and support more projects and programs. We also hope to make the Park more accessible by supporting wheelchair accessibility improvements, hosting learning opportunities like our webinar series, and working to create virtual tours and experiences of some of the Park’s cliff dwellings and archaeological sites.
ADG: What do you think about our Mesa Verde poster art? Any designs we should add to our series? Any angles or views of Mesa Verde that you feel should be better represented in art?
Shannon: This is a great question. Your poster art is beautiful and includes the dwellings of Mesa Verde that are most recognizable to the general public. That said, your art includes only two cliff dwellings – Cliff Palace and Balcony – while Mesa Verde National Park covers 52,000 acres and protects nearly 5,000 archaeological sites, including 600 dwellings. If you want to expand your series, there are many additional dwellings to include in your poster art.
ADG: Those are great suggestions! One last question, if there would be one thing about your group or National Park conservation/restoration/education generally that you’d want the broader public to know, what would that be?
Shannon: The federal government cannot fully fund our National Parks. If we want to preserve these incredible wonders for future generations, we MUST support them. You can provide this support in many ways:
- Educate yourself and others about the value of our National Parks
- Visit National Parks with respect and leave no trace
- Volunteer at a National Park site or for a Park’s partner organization
- Donate to a Park’s philanthropic partner and/or attend its fundraising events
- Spread the word and let other people know why you are passionate about a National Park, a National Monument and/or the National Park Service
ADG: Amazing, Shannon. Thank you so much for your work, for ensuring these natural and cultural treasures are here for generations, and for sitting down with us today. We will make more art of these spaces and celebrate them in the ways we know best!
Shannon: Thanks for having me! It’s been a pleasure.
The Importance of Supporting National Park Foundations, Friend Groups, and Conservation Leagues
You can learn more about Mesa Verde Foundation at their website. There, you can read about their many programs and their positive impact, and you can become a member to support their work in perpetuity.
If you represent a National Park Association, Foundation, History Association, Friend Group, or Conservancy that works in any of the 63 American National Parks, contact us today to schedule an interview! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, we’ll return to creating vintage poster art for Mesa Verde National Park and other National Parks. Let’s enjoy these beautiful, historic places and do our part to preserve them for future generations.
Until next time,
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer