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Conservancy continues giving, despite pandemic blow

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | March 3, 2021 7:20 AM

Retail sales down 56%. Philanthropy down 8%. Total revenue down 32%.

The numbers sound like a nightmare for any nonprofit, but the Glacier National Park Conservancy still expects to support just about $1.8 million in Glacier Park projects this year, despite suffering rather severe losses in 2020 due to coronavirus shutdowns.

The Conservancy is the official fundraising partner of the park.

One of the main profit centers for the Conservancy is retail sales in the summer months, noted Executive Director Doug Mitchell in an interview last week.

The Conservancy runs retail stores at the Apgar Visitor Center, at the Belton Depot, Logan Pass Visitor Center and St. Mary visitor center.

But with coronavirus restrictions the St. Mary visitor center was closed all last summer and at Apgar, they sold books outside due to virus concerns.

As a result, retail sales were down from $4.37 million in 2019 to $1.926 million in 2020. St. Mary alone amounted to a loss of about $800,000 in sales.

In addition, the virus had an impact on giving and philanthropy was down from $2.925 million in 2019 to $2.69 million in 2020.

Last March, when it appeared the opening of Glacier would be in doubt, or at least severely

restricted, Mitchell said the organization went into a “Winston Churchill wartime budget.”

Together with finance director Barb Sieh, they actually expected things to be far worse. They projected retail would be down 75% and philanthropy down 25%.

“We weren’t expecting to do $1.9 million in retail,” Mitchell said.

But people still came to the park and despite the east side closure, it was quite busy. Online sales were also substantially higher, from $185,000 in 2019 to $388,000 in 2020.

Philanthropy also held its own despite the challenges, Mitchell noted. For example, the Climate Ride, where folks raise money through pledges for a bicycle journey, was canceled and the Sperry Fund was no more since the chalet project was completed.

Still, “our donors were super generous,” Mitchell said.

The Conservancy also cut expenditures by 18% — primarily by not filling two positions, Mitchell noted. This year the Conservancy plans to support a host of interesting projects, from plant research at Two Dog Flats to helping support a bighorn sheep study and funding a second year of Glacier podcasts, to name a few. Last year some programs weren’t funded because of coronavirus concerns. Glacier didn’t and still isn’t, hosting field trips, and the Native America Speaks series was canceled as well to avoid spreading the virus.

But field trips and the Native America Speaks

program could return this summer if enough people are vaccinated by then.

Mitchell said he still expects a challenging year ahead. There’s still no firm timeline on an east side opening and park staffing will still be restricted due to coronavirus concerns. Still, he sees brighter days ahead beyond this year.

People are attracted to the natural environment more than ever since the pandemic and supporting it has proven attractive as well.

“One thing (people) have discovered is the restorative power of Glacier,” he said. “It’s where they can find serenity and peace in times of trial. I feel great about our community.”