May 1, 2008: A Dream Realized Want to know more about the Friends participation in this project? Read on! Click here for a list of the wonderful donors who made this project possible. Click here for the NPS Press Release from May 2008. FRIENDS OF BIG BEND COMPLETE FUND DRIVE FOR BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK VISITOR CENTER EXHIBITS Recent grants and gifts put the Friends over their $200,000 goal for new and improved educational exhibits at the Panther Junction Visitor Center in Big Bend National Park. Big Bend National Park, TX, June 14, 2005 The Friends of Bend National Park announced the award of a $25,000 grant from the Amon Carter Foundation of Ft. Worth, TX to upgrade the educational exhibits at the Panther Junction Visitor Center in Big Bend National Park. "Combined with the generous giving of many other donors, the award of this grant has brought our fund drive for the Visitor Center exhibits to a successful conclusion," said Charles (Reb) Gregg, president of the Friends of Big Bend National Park. Award of the Amon Carter Grant qualified the Friends to receive a $25,000 challenge grant, awarded in August 2004, from an anonymous West Texas foundation. "Reaching the goal for the challenge grant was also made possible through more than $36,500 in gifts which were received this spring from more than forty donors," said Gregg. The largest of these spring gifts were received from the Big Bend Telephone Company of Alpine TX, Houston and Carolyn Harte of San Antonio TX, Jack and Joan Lamkin of Marathon TX, and James and Mary Ann Wilkes of Ann Arbor MI. Other large gifts previously received were from the Abell-Hanger Foundation, Union Pacific Foundation, National Parks Foundation, Big Bend Telephone Company, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company. In all, more than fifty individuals, foundations, and businesses contributed to the Visitor Center fund drive over the last two years. In addition, the Friends’ board of directors committed to the effort $50,000 of revenues from its vehicle license plate program, which represents the contributions of 2,273 individuals who have purchased Big Bend National Park license plates. "Our organization felt that visitors, who often make long journeys to the Park, deserve a first-class welcome center and set of exhibits," Gregg said. "The outpouring of support for this project from all parts of Texas and the US has been very gratifying, and we thank our members and supporters for their generosity." FACT SHEET The Panther Junction Visitor Center at Big Bend National Park is the first contact that most visitors have with the Park. In the coming months, it will undergo a $650,000 expansion and exhibits upgrade to improve the experience for park visitors. Construction will be funded in part by fees gathered at the Park, as well as by donations from the Big Bend Natural History Association and the Friends of Big Bend National Park. The exhibits will be funded through more than $200,000 which has been raised by the Friends of Big Bend National Park for new exhibits highlighting the Park’s ecology. In 2005 over 400,000 visitors came to Big Bend National Park, with more than 80% passing through the Panther Junction Visitor Center, a small and outdated facility that was built to meet the needs of just 90,000 visitors a year. During peak visitor periods, the Visitor Center is often so crowded that visitors are inadequately served. The present education exhibits are similarly inadequate and need to be updated to meet the expectations and needs of a modern and sophisticated audience. The expansion will add more than 700 square feet to the east side of the facility—a 57% increase. The space will be dedicated to an expanded bookstore, new interpretive exhibits, and a larger information desk where visitors can talk with park rangers to receive general information, campsite assignments, directions to Park attractions, etc. The expansion will follow the same architectural style, known as "Mission 66," that characterizes the other park service structures at the Park. The exhibits, which will be designed by park staff and exhibit specialists, will highlight the three distinctive ecological zones at the park: river habitat, desert habitat, and mountain habitat. Groundbreaking is scheduled for April 2006, and Park officials estimate the expansion will be complete by late 2006. Big Bend National Park is located in West Texas at the 'big bend' of the Rio Grande. Big Bend is larger than the state of Rhode Island and received an average of 308,000 visitors per year since 1995. Big Bend has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. It has international significance as having been designated a "Biosphere Reserve" by UNESCO—one of only 250 such areas worldwide whose ecosystems are particularly well preserved. The National Parks Conservation Association recently listed Big Bend as one of the ten most endangered parks in the 384-unit National Park System. The Friends of Big Bend National Park is a private not-for-profit organization with a mission to support, promote, and raise funds for Big Bend National Park in partnership with the National Park Service and other supporters who value the unique qualities of this national resource on the Rio Grande. The Friends of Big Bend National Park has funded a range of critical projects, including wildlife research programs, the purchase of equipment to monitor air and water quality, and the construction and renovation of Park infrastructure. Thank you!