Parks Project, LLC: Leave it Better than You Found It

by Kelly Sanderbeck, Donor Development Manager

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Keith Eshelman and Sevag Kazanci started Parks Project after working at TOMS and volunteering with the company in the National Parks. Their motto, Leave It Better Than You Found It, was inspired by ‘passionate pioneers who fought to protect America’s greatest landscapes and most awe-inspiring views, creating our national parks. Parks Project was created to make sure we don’t forget.’

A few years ago we signed up to volunteer in the Santa Monica Mountains, figuring a little hard work in one of our favorite places would be a good way to contribute. We found there was a lack of participation from our generation. Have we forgotten about the treasures we already own? We decided to do something about it.

During our time volunteering with park staff, we learned about all the unique projects that needed funding, advocacy and support. Out of that need (and our love for the parks), Parks Project was born. Inspired by our time at TOMS, we made a plan to create collections of park goods that directly fund backlogged projects in the parks.

“We the people” own 84 million acres of pristine park wilderness that need our attention, action, & funding. Giving back to our parklands means more than just writing a check. As an official business partner to the National Parks, we work directly with over 30 park conservancies across the US who have boots on the ground inside our parks.

Co-founder Sevag was kind enough to answers some of our questions:

Would you share a favorite memory in from the parks?

Hiking the narrows in Zion National Park from top to bottom. I still think about it almost every day.

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Photo by John Chao

How long were you at TOMS, and how did Parks Project come about?

Keith and I met working at TOMS. We both had a love for skateboarding and grew up in California, so connected through that. Working for a giveback and message driven company like TOMS was awesome and inspired us to do volunteer work in a space that we were passionate about – the outdoors. Through our volunteer work we realized that there was an entire generation missing out on the opportunity to help conserve these spaces. They just needed to be engaged in the right way. Enter Parks Project! We decided to make quality-made and designed goods that fund projects through each purchase.

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Photo by Andy Porter

How did you discover Your Big Backyard at Olympic National Park, and why did you choose to get involved?

We discovered the project through our developing relationship with Washington’s National Park Fund. We approached them about our business model and wanting to help fund a project within the park through the sale of our Olympic Collection products. For every 500 products sold from our Olympic Collection, one child from the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula is able to participate in Your Big Backyard program for the entire summer! This includes 2 ranger’s visits to the clubhouses, 15 field trips, a canoe day at Lake Crescent, swimming at Sol Duc Hot Springs, a kayaking day on Lake Crescent and an end of year BBQ celebration! To date we have been able to fund 5 children’s experiences within the program. We think getting kids involved in these programs is so important for encouraging the next generation to get out and enjoy and preserve the parks! We have to create that connection – without a connection to these special places, they will fall into the wayside of not being a priority for American citizens. We need to get everyone in engaged – kids especially! It’s time everyone starts thinking about how we want to hand down the parks to the next generation.

What is something interesting that people might not know about you?

I’m a DJ on the side and speak 3 languages.

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Photo by Stephen Matera

What’s your hope for the parks in 100 years?

My hope is that parks continue to reach a broader audience. I think the concept of park conservation is something most people in the outdoor community can stand behind as we enjoy and love these spaces. I think the ultimate challenge is reaching a broader audience that maybe doesn’t quite ‘get it’ yet. Maybe they just need a creative nudge. If we can think intentionally about how we speak to this audience and how we interact with them, I think awesome conservancies and foundations like WNPF will only continue to grow and thrive. We’re on the front lines making sure that happens!

To see more, visit the Parks Project website!

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