published on November 15, 2013 - 12:24 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Mike Tollefson, President
Yosemite Conservancy

What we do: Provide support from donors to preserve Yosemite National Park for future generations

Education: B.A. in marketing and finance, University of Washington, 1970

How did you come to your position with Yosemite Conservancy?
I’ve dedicated my life to the stewardship of our national parks. I had the privilege of serving as superintendent at Glacier Bay, Great Smoky Mountains, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks. When I decided to transition from the park service, I wanted to stay involved in efforts to preserve and protect Yosemite. The park has that kind of life changing effect on people. At that time, the opportunity arose to join the Conservancy after its president, Bob Hansen, decided to retire after years of success. The timing was perfect. I’m thrilled to be part of the Conservancy and work with so many people dedicated to the park’s well being and enhancing the visitor experience.


How did the recent government shutdown affect Yosemite Conservancy, Mike?
In the short term, the shutdown touched many people, projects and programs. Visitors were unable to enjoy the park and the programs we support, such as Junior Ranger programs, Yosemite Theater and Outdoor Adventures. Projects involving habitat restoration, trail repair and wildlife research were temporarily put on hold. Revenue from the products we sell at stores in the park to fund our efforts and the opportunity to introduce visitors to our organization did not occur. While these efforts are back on track, we lost about $300,000 in gross revenue and support that we don’t anticipate being able to make up. Not surprisingly, it was evident during the 16-day closure that people missed being in the park. We saw a huge spike in visitors to our website webcams that show four dramatic Yosemite views.

What kinds of activities and programs do the donations provide for in the park, Mike?
The work we fund occurs throughout the park, such as trail rehabilitation, wildlife protection and habitat restoration. We are dedicated to enhancing the visitor experience and providing a deeper connection to the park through outdoor programs, volunteering and wilderness services. Thanks to dedicated supporters, the Conservancy has provided more than $75 million in grants to Yosemite National Park to improve popular overlooks, restore meadows and protect bears, to name just a few examples of where funds have been directed.

What are some notable restoration projects that Yosemite Conservancy supported, Mike?
Donor support has made a real difference in the park. We funded a $13.5 million effort to improve the approach and trail system at Lower Yosemite Falls where one million people visit each year. Our trails campaign provided support to repair critical trails in Yosemite Valley and the backcountry. Millions have been poured into reestablishing bighorn sheep, and projects to save and protect peregrine falcons, songbirds, Pacific fishers and great gray owls.

Why do you feel it’s important to support youth programs in the park, Mike?
In 2013, we contributed $1.8 million to 12 Youth in Yosemite programs so that children learn about nature through the Junior Ranger program, underserved high school students experience the wilderness for the first time, college interns work side-by-side with park staff, and other programs repair trails and preserve habitat. Our goal is to build lifelong connections to nature that encourage park stewardship. Using Yosemite as an inspirational tool and the expertise of park partners, these programs excite youth of all ages to become our next scientists, community leaders and educators.

How can people give, Mike?
The best way to give is on our website at or to call 800-469-7275.

What kind of support does Yosemite Conservancy get from San Joaquin Valley, Mike?
We get terrific support from San Joaquin Valley and it comes in many forms. We receive thousands of financial contributions. People volunteer on restoration efforts. UC Merced and area elementary and high schools participate in the Youth in Yosemite programs we support. Yosemite is in San Joaquin Valley’s backyard, which is one reason people are so passionate about supporting the Conservancy.

What is the most rewarding part of your job, Mike?
It’s incredibly gratifying to watch visitors of all ages enjoying the park as a result of the projects and programs that the Conservancy supports.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment? What else would you like to accomplish, Mike?
In 2010, we merged two wonderful organizations that were supporting the park into today’s Yosemite Conservancy to form a single and stronger entity. Looking ahead, I’m dedicated to providing people who love Yosemite with the opportunity to show their support through our organization.

What are you passionate about, Mike?
Helping to preserve remarkable places like Yosemite so they continue to be enjoyable for all.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Mike?
My first jobs involved picking strawberries, working as a bus boy and making fishing tackle at a manufacturing plant. From those experiences, I realized that I wanted focus my work on helping people enjoy the outdoors.

What do you do in your spare time, Mike?
I enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing and kayaking.

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