This story was updated May 22, 2018, at 11:58 p.m.
Two nonprofit groups dedicated to promoting national parks in the Chattanooga area are consolidating and rebranding to streamline operations in their mission to be the philanthropic partners of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park system.
The boards of the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Archeological District and Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park believe they have fulfilled their original objectives and will follow the lead of the parks themselves, which became part of one system in 2003. The new group, called National Park Partners, will continue to focus on philanthropic support for the entire Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park system, which features six locations. The merger was announced Tuesday.
"The efficiency gained by combining two fundraising organizations into one will really enhance the ability of this new entity, the National Park Partners, to augment the park's federal operating budget and entrance fee funds with private donations," said Brad Bennett, director of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. "In fact, the park's ability to compete with public/private partnership grants relies on philanthropic matching funds. The combining of these two friends organizations into one philanthropic organization means that NP Partners will be a single, stronger voice of support for the entire park."
The Friends of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was formed in 1986 ahead of the 100th anniversary of the preservation of the park. The group continued its fundraising efforts and worked alongside the park system as a partner to help raise support and funds. In a similar manner, the Friends of Moccasin Bend was formed in 1995 to advocate for the inclusion of 750 acres of historical land in the national park system. That goal was achieved in 2003. It then successfully worked to create a general management plan, adopted last year, that would outline the future use of the park.
Group members were also concerned about public confusion surrounding their roles and the park system.
"This is another reason why we felt this is a good time to combine," National Park Partners Director Tricia Mims said. "People were confused. They think these are two separate parks when they are all part of one greater park. I think the timing was just really right for this."
The organizations legally combined Jan. 1, but the groups' board members and Mims have been working to finalize details for several months. A task force will come together this summer to create a three- to five-year plan for the group, but the general purpose of the new organization will continue to be educating the public about the historical significance of the area and promoting the park as a national treasure. The merger was supported with a grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation.
Mims has served as the director of both organizations for about a year and will remain in charge of the new organization. The two boards will consolidate to form one 29-member board.
"I think this merger will be so much better, because we will have one fundraising organization and one group for the general public," longtime board member Dan Saieed said. "The park service will now have a single source of reference. In the past, [Bennett] would have to go to one group for a part and another for the other.