During this pandemic, some of our visitor center park stores may experience intermittent closures. We need your help more than ever to resume support of vital national park programs. Please donate, visit our online shop, or become a member today to save 15% off all purchases, whether in-park or online. Mahalo!

Where Did National Parks “Bookstores” Come From?

Where Did National Parks “Bookstores” Come From?

It seems like they have always been there, part of the park experience, a wonderful visitor center store packed with “here and only here” books, clothes, art, photography, gifts for kids, and so much more. Where did they begin? Who runs them? What is done with the proceeds?

Have you ever wondered any of that?

Let’s go back to 1916. Congress was responsible for 12 national parks by this point, and the 12th was Hawaiʻi National Park, split between Maui and Hawaiʻi Island (The Big Island). The National Park Service (NPS) was also formed that year to manage this growing family. Americans fell in love with their public lands and visitation began in earnest. By 1920, it became clear that NPS staff could not manage the requests for books, maps, and other things that excited explorers requested. Yosemite took the lead on a solution and formed the Yosemite Museum Association to help handle those requests.

In 1933, The Hawaii Natural History Association (HNHA), was formed on Hawaiʻi Island. Its role was to support Hawaiʻi National Park by meeting the needs of visitors. The famous C.C.C., or Civilian Conservation Corps, built an overlook building near the summit of Kīlauea in 1936 and by 1948, HNHA was in full swing, serving visitors who were seeking connection with everything from journals, to apparel, reference books and guides. In 1961, Hawaii National Park was split into Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park.

From the 1960s to the 2000s, HNHA signed up to be the nonprofit cooperating association partner of four more NPS sites:

City of Refuge National Historical Park (Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau NHP) 

Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site


Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

National Park of American Samoa

In 2011, HNHA renamed and rebranded to HPPA: Hawaiʻi Pacific Parks Association. By that time we were running 9 visitor center park stores in six NPS sites. Proceeds from sales items are made available to our national park partners for needs as far-ranging as volunteer housing and wildlife conservation. Since that long ago day in 1933, we have been able to raise enough proceeds to donate over 20 million dollars to our partners. For a look at some of what visitors have paid for through their shopping dollars, click the drop-down Our Work menu.

In the U.S. there are now more than 60 nonprofit cooperating associations serving more than 300 national park service sites. When you become a member with HPPA or any of the other 59 associations, you can receive discounts on purchases at any of the public lands stores in the program.

So, when you shop at a visitor center park store, you are walking into a long and productive relationship between the parks you love and the partners who love to support them. That’s a good feeling. We hope to see you soon.

Hawaii Pacific Parks Association Location Map

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