A legacy of land stewardship and conservation by American philanthropic families
The June 2007 issue of Smithsonian magazine features an article by Tony Perrottet called “Jewel of the Tetons,” which describes the secretive mission of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to purchase private properties at the base of the Tetons with the intent of donating the land to the government for permanent protection.
Despite philanthropic intentions, the campaign to purchase over 35,000 acres was mired in 20 years of anti-park controversy, distrust, and debate. It was not until 1950 when Rockefeller successfully donated 33,562 acres to the National Park Service, enlarging the Grand Teton National Park and protecting important wildlife corridors and the mountain grandeur from unsightly commercial development. The family retained the final 3,300 acres, the JY Ranch, as a Rockefeller family retreat until John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s son Laurance began gifting it to the park over several years. On May 26, 2001, Laurance S. Rockefeller donated the remaining 1,106-acre land (also known as the Laurance Spelman Rockefeller Preserve). The park service expects the formal transfer to be complete by later this summer and open to the public in September 2007. With this gift, “the entire JY property becomes part of America’s conservation heritage and marks another milestone in the Rockefeller legacy of stewardship and philanthropy,” writes the park service.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Haases are another one of the nation’s most philanthropic families. Julian Guthrie published an excellent article called “The Haas Legacy – How one family’s generosity and commitment to civic life are transforming the Bay Area.”
The descendants of Levi Strauss (Elise Haas was a great niece of Levi Strauss) and branches of the Haas family operate five independent foundations. The Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, established in 1953, has the largest annual giving and was key to the restoration of the former military airfield Crissy Field, along San Francisco’s north shore (completed in 2001). Recently, I visited the tidal marsh and was in awe of the native coastal dune plants flourishing there and the numerous waterfowl and other marsh birds. I remember when the silver dune lupine, sand verbena, and coastal sagewort were new plantings. It was hard to envision the reemergence of the native coastal dune community that once thrived here in the time of the Ohlone. The scene there now is a drastic transformation from the toxic wasteland it once was.
In April, the Haas Jr. Fund made another major philanthropic gift to the Presidio in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) to support the “Post to Park”conversion. This project involves the implementation of a comprehensive 24-mile pedestrian, hiking, and bicycle trail network at the Presidio and the revitalization of the Presidio’s Rob Hill Campground.