Getting to Know the Natural Heritage Trust

Did you know that New York State’s public lands and waters have had a charitable partner for more than 50 years? The Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) was established in 1968 as a non-profit, public benefit corporation with the mission to support parks, outdoor recreation, historic preservation and land and water conservation throughout state lands.

During this time, the NHT has worked with its agency partners — New York State Parks, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of State (DOS) to raise funds, secure grants and support programs in benefit of the state’s environmental, outdoor, and historic resources

New York has a long and cherished history of private support for parks and public lands. Starting more than a century ago, large land donations and philanthropy formed the very beginnings of the New York State Park system. During Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s administration, the state established the Natural Heritage Trust to provide the organizational structure for park philanthropy.

In the decades that followed, countless examples of generosity at all levels — from small individual donations to a favorite park or trail, to large foundation grants for construction projects — have supported parks and nature centers, conserved significant historic and cultural sites, and protected natural resources in state lands across New York. 

The impact of philanthropy is found throughout New York’s State Parks. Places such as the Emma Treadwell Nature Center and the Park Center at Thacher State Park; the Humphrey Nature Center at Letchworth State Park; Harriman State Park, and the Rockefeller State Park Preserve would not have been possible without significant support from the families who bear their names. Philanthropy also built and cares for Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park; the Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park, the Jones Beach Energy & Nature Center and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Gateways along the Empire State Trail in Western New York.

The free loaner Bike Library at Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn is supported in part by the Natural Heritage Trust.
A gateway at Buffalo Harbor State Park supported by a donation to the Trust by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

The Trust also raises funds to expand access to outdoor recreation through programs like Connect Kids to Parks, Ladders to the Outdoors, Learn-to-Swim, the Bike Library at Shirley Chisholm State Park; youth camping opportunities at DEC’s overnight summer camps and sports programs at Riverbank State Park. Our support boosts large events like the Memorial Day Air Show and annual fireworks display at Jones Beach State Park.

The NHT also works in partnership with Friends groups and other non-profits.  It is currently the fundraising partner to The Autism Nature Trail at Letchworth State Park. To date, over $3 million has been raised for the construction of this innovative, fully privately funded sensory trail for families of visitors with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities..


For many New Yorkers, parks are cherished places where families spend valuable time together. Gifts to the NHT are often made in memory and in honor of friends and loved ones for whom a park, trail or place in nature had particular significance. From memorial benches and tribute tiles to estate planning, the NHT is honored to provide this opportunity of remembrance for so many. To learn more about this type of giving to the NHT, visit www.naturalheritagetrust.org. All donations to the NHT are fully tax-deductible.

Careful financial stewardship guides the NHT’s mission, resulting in a robust organization prepared to expand the impact of private philanthropy and strategic partnerships throughout New York State.  The NHT currently holds just over $59 million in total assets, including more than $32 million for permanent endowments.

During the 2020-21 fiscal year, it managed over $18 million in program and activity revenues, donations, grants, and corporate sponsorships, while expending approximately $12.4 million in support of a wide variety of exemplary projects like those described above.

Individual donations made up nearly a third of donations to the Trust last year, with the rest coming from foundations, corporations and Friends groups.

The investment policies of the Trust also reflect its responsible stewardship and the environmental and social values inherent in its mission. In early 2021, the NHT’s Board of Directors approved the incorporation of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria into the Trust’s investment decisions to encourage sustainable business practices and ethical behavior of companies.

Parks are a vital part of New York’s social fabric. They connect communities and offer both respite and relaxation, and adventure and exploration. New Yorkers are proud of their parks and the NHT is honored to be entrusted with the thousands of donations New Yorkers make every year to support them.

The NHT is eager to connect with supporters. It recently launched a new website and Facebook page. Learn more about supporting the parks, historic site and outdoor programs you love by visiting the NHT on its website, connecting on Facebook or signing  up for its e-newsletter.


Post by Sally Drake, Executive Director of the Natural Heritage Trust

Read the 2021 Annual Report of the Natural Heritage Trust by clicking below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.