Skip to main content

Fashion Helping National Parks Stay Open and Functional

If pandemic-enforced isolation did anything, it drove more people outside. According to internal stats, the National Park Service hosted 297 million visitors in 2021, which was up 60 million visits, good for a 25% bump over 2020. Easing COVID-19 protocols allowed more open park facilities, and the outdoors called out to people who have been stuck inside.

While this is a positive revenue bump for national parks, now approaching numbers leading to the 2014-2015 run up to the NPS Centennial in 2016, increased use and a continued labor shortage makes it difficult to maintain park conditions and programs. With an over $1 billion backlog in necessary repairs, the National Park Service needs additional help to preserve and upkeep some of our most sacred destinations. Fortunately, nonprofit groups like Parks Project have stepped into the void to nurture these national parks and ensure their present and future existence. And along with encouraging volunteers and youth participation, the output includes some pretty sweet fashion.

Related Videos
Models wear National Geographic and Parks Project T-shirts while standing in front of horses.
Parks Project.

Since 2014, Parks Project has stepped up with a three-pillared approach to preserving these natural treasures: Raising contributed funds, facilitating and participating in on-the-ground volunteer efforts, and supporting efforts to get youths involved in national parks.

Collaborative projects with artists, designers, parks, and outdoors organizations have elicited stylish, high-quality colorblock fleece jackets, cozy shroom-printed beanies, and park-inspired merchandise to show off your favorite national park. Contributed revenue from merchandise sales and charitable donations have risen from just a thousand dollars in 2014 to breaking the $2,000,000 mark in 2021. Each purchase not only funds Parks Project donations to national park upkeep but it also funnels money to Junior Ranger programs, heritage education, trail maintenance, habitat protection, and more.

“We take a very wholesome approach through financial contributions, physical efforts, and changing minds,” Parks Project co-founder Keith Eshelman said in an interview. “It might be a little bit under the radar, but education and advocacy is a huge part of that and, in the long run, should have the biggest impact.”

Inspiration struck Eshelman in 2014 when planning a Big Sur hike with his daughter, Beverley. Seeking to take full advantage of paternity leave, Eshelman traveled to Big Sur to take on a hike that he’d taken many times as a Bay Area native. The trail that he usually hiked, however, was closed.

“That was my moment years ago: I realized that this might not be available for my daughter, so this quickly had me volunteering and doing trail work. This spawned a whole educational deep dive and an effort to bring in people who also have this passion and physically support them for volunteer work,” Eshelman said.

This birthed projects across California and soon across the United States. Eshelman and co-founder Sevag Kazanci took an entrepreneurial approach to Parks Project. This began with birthing an idea, connecting with state and national parks on specific projects and assistance that they were looking for, and then getting onto the ground to both physically help and seek aid with an indefatigable spirit.

“Unless you go into the trenches, you don’t know how you’re going to get it done,” Eshelman said. “That’s one of the advantages of bootstrapping: Getting to decide how we are going to make the product, design the product, how we market, and how we manage relationships.”

A model, seen from the back, wears a "For a Good Time Call Parks," Parks Project T-shirt while looking at ducks in a pond.
Parks Project.

Through the efforts of a staff that’s grown from two to 22 in the last eight years, Parks Project has been able to engender a love of these outdoors spaces through specific, project-based work as opposed to just cutting a check to parks.

“This is why we have a variety of parks projects and why this organization is so unique,” Eshelman said. “We physically go to parks and ask what they need.”

This means helping the Yellowstone cougar conservation program through taking documentary video of wildlife, removing non-native species from the Yosemite Valley, and instituting Parks Projects’ first Junior Ranger Program in Zion National National Park.

“Investing in the next generation is so huge,” Eshelman said. “That’s what Gen Z is asking: How do we roll up our sleeves, and cultivate a call to action.”

Even though getting people to answer this call might take time, it bears positive and often funky fruit. It took organizers three years of asking, but they were finally able to connect with the Grateful Dead on a line in partnership with the Sierra Club.

This year, Parks Project is growing its Pacific Northwest presence with the addition of new activewear options celebrating the Oregon State Parks Centennial Anniversary in concert with Madewell apparel and artist Sabrena Khadija.

As these goods sell online, Park Projects will continue to encourage boots on the ground and getting a future generation involved the best way they know how: By jumping in and making things work.

“There’s no playbook. If there was, everyone would do it,” Eshelman said. “Everything comes down to your unique mission: Is that resonating? Do people connect with that? How do you go about distributing that and get the point across?”

In every way they can, Parks Project plans to continue rallying the voices, enthusiasm, and participation of younger generations to foster a growing audience interested in sustaining America’s awesome natural beauty today and for future generations.

Editors' Recommendations

The 10 best men’s workout shirts to help you get fit in 2023

There are multiple things to consider when purchasing new workout apparel. You want to make sure you do your due diligence beforehand. When looking for the optimal workout shirt, functionality often takes precedence over style, for most men. After all, a minimalist cotton t-shirt is ideal, but it won't look (or smell) so great after an hour-long workout, especially if your working out, outdoors. That's why, in the past decade, some of our favorite activewear brands like Lululemon, Vuori, and Under Armour have developed breathable fabrics with moisture-wicking and odor-fighting technology that are now practically must-haves for any exercise gear, especially when it comes to making high-quality shirts.

That being said, not all workout tops are created equal. When it comes to finding the right workout fit, make sure it doesn't feel too tight or baggy around your underarms, your shoulders, or across your chest, i.e., the areas you exercise most. We sifted through some of the most popular brands to select the best workout shirts that are as practical as they are fashionable. Here are our top picks for the best men's workout shirts of 2023.

Read more
St. Patrick’s Day: What to wear (without looking like a leprechaun)
Look stylish while participating in St. Patrick's Day customs

Every holiday has its own traditions and customs. And St. Patrick's Day is no different. While it is customary for people to wear green to honor the patron saint of Ireland, one of the most significant customs is that you get pinched if you forget to wear emerald, forest, sage, or lime green. Here are a few ideas on subtly keeping your style intact while protecting against the invasion of pinches the day brings.

We've rounded up our favorite gear picks from our favorite brands for this green-centric holiday. You don't have to go over the top and throw on shamrocks left and right. Subtle retro sneakers, a handsome olive green crewneck, a classic green tie ... all of these picks will work more than acceptable for a day we love to celebrate (in style and responsibly, of course).

Read more
How to tie your shoes and make any pair in your closet slip-on shoes
YouTube videos with genius ways to tie your shoes so you never have to tie them again
man tying sneakers outside

It turns out that learning to tie your shoes in Kindergarten may not have been the win you and your parents thought it was. Men’s slip-on shoes are all the rage these days. Call them ugly all you want — they’re easy to slip on when you’re in a rush and cozy to boot.

Maybe you’re a resident sneakerhead, or perhaps you simply don’t feel like splurging on a pair of designer men’s slip-on shoes. You might simply not be able to get passed the “ugly shoe” label of Birkenstocks (or the more budget-friendly dupes). Still, the ease of slip-on shoes is a massive perk.

Read more