It all started with a pickaxe.

The year was 2014. Friends Keith Eshelman and Sevag Kazanci were working at the popular shoe brand TOMS at the time and decided to join a volunteer day in their backyard: the Santa Monica Mountains.

What started with the two swinging pickaxes and restoring trails with the Santa Monica Trail Council quickly turned into a realization. Public lands were experiencing a severe lack of engagement from young people like Eshelman and Kazanci.

Sevag Kazanci (left) and Keith Eshelman (right), co-founders of Parks Project

Sevag Kazanci (left) and Keith Eshelman (right), co-founders of Parks Project

Most of the conservation and restoration work that happens in parklands today is done by volunteers – they create a vital baseline of support for the outdoor places we love to play in.

That realization turned into Parks Project in 2015. Eshelman and Kazanci built on the “business for good” model of their shared former employer, TOMS, and founded a company that actively gives back. They started by printing t-shirts in their garage. Not your average “My Friend Went to Yellowstone and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt” tchotchkes but thoughtful products people would actually want to wear. They harnessed their social media savvy to create a community of like-minded people devoted to giving back to the parks. They hope to be the voice for the next generation, inspiring young people to fall in love with parks and conserve them actively.

Unlike other companies that give back, Parks Project doesn’t just write a check and donate a portion of their proceeds. Each item they create helps to fund a project with a different organization supporting the parks. In Yellowstone, they fund trail restoration with Yellowstone Forever. In Sequoia, they fund the Rangers in the Classroom program to support outdoor learning for grades K-12. In Grand Teton, they support the Wildlife Brigade Volunteers. They currently work with more than 40 conservancies around the U.S. and Canada.

Not only does Parks Project fund important projects in the parks, they also back up their talk by getting their community’s hands dirty through volunteer days. (www.parksproject.us/blogs/volunteer-days)

“It’s so satisfying to roll up your sleeves and make an impact,” says Eshelman. “It helps foster a deeper connection to the parks and is the most effective way to energize more people to get involved in conservation.”

Parks Project volunteering in Olympic National Park

Volunteering in Olympic National Park

It’s inspiring to see the results of Parks Project’s work—2,822 native species planted in Muir Moods; 20,647 kids funded to visit a national park through the National Park Foundation; 58,800 meters of trail restored in Yosemite. Their goal is to fund 100 projects and log 100,000 volunteer hours in the next decade. Read more at www.parksproject.us/pages/our-contribution.

Parks Project volunteers in Yosemite National Park

Parks Project volunteers in Yosemite National Park

One of the most inspiring projects Kazanci has been a part of is working with the Joshua Tree National Park Association to propagate Joshua trees in a plant nursery.

“Joshua Tree was the first place I camped and one of the first places that fueled my love for the outdoors,” he shares. “You don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes to take care of our parks. Joshua trees grow one inch per year. It’s mind-blowing how dedicated these volunteers are to maintaining the species.”

Recently, Parks Project has been working on ways to make its products more sustainable. As a society, we’re changing our approach to life and consumption and Parks Project is working to expand that change. Every Thursday, staff does a drop of carefully curated vintage apparel. The response has been overwhelming, and they’re looking to add more frequent drops in the future.

They’re always experimenting with upcycling materials to create their products. A fanny pack made from old park ranger pants sold out in no time and they just released a new line of totes made from upcycled down jackets.

“It’s bigger than us,” says Eshelman. “These projects have a ripple effect. We want to leave a lasting impact and foster that outdoor connection. I want my seven-year-old daughter to be able to experience these places, too.”

Horizontal rule

Learn more about Parks Project at www.parksproject.us.

Related

Sunset over Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Views in Shenandoah National Park

Just 75 miles from the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park feels a world away.

Using EcoVessel's Boulder bottle in the park

Why Reusable Water Bottles Are Important

Here are 5 tips from EcoVessel on why drinking water from a reusable water bottle is so essential both on and off the trail.

Hiking along Abrams Creek near Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Leave No Trace in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Even if you live by the phrase “take only photos; leave only footprints” when you’re outdoors, it still might seem counterintuitive to pack out food scraps and toilet paper.

Tamron photographer Andre Costantini helping a workshop participant at Great Sand Dunes National Park

National Park Photography Workshops

National Park Trips Media and Tamron have teamed up to offer Photo Workshops inside your favorite national parks.

A male elk called a "buck."

Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The park’s largest animal, elk can weigh 700 pounds and reach 5 feet at the shoulder.

Joseph S. Hall traveled throughout the Great Smoky Mountain region in the late 1930s and early 1940s, recording stories and songs to document the speech of the people who lived in the mountains. Steve Woody shared a bear hunting story with Joe Hall and his recording machine at the Woody farm in Cataloochee in 1939. Photo by NPS Archives

Song Catcher Joseph Hall's Smoky Mountain Music

Joseph S. Hall recorded Smoky Mountain stories and songs in the 1930s. Purchase the music CD of 34 original recordings from the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

The John "Gull" Tipton family around 1930. John Tipton operated Cable Mill in Cades Cove for a time during the 1940s and 1950s. Photo by NPS Archives

The Mountain People of the Great Smokies

Before this was a national park, there were thriving communities here. See photos of the mountain people who made their homes on the land.

Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip From Shenandoah to Great Smoky

The National Park Service’s best East Coast sights are peppered with history, breathtaking nature and a vibrant music scene along the way.

Dolly Parton's 1973 performance in Carthage, Tennessee. USACE Photo

Dollywood’s Roots in the Great Smokies

The contrast between her childhood home and her sprawling Dollywood complex is a reminder that the biggest thrills are when we take large leaps to follow our dreams, no matter how long the road.