In 2006, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Natural Resource Section gained a new partner, the Corps Foundation. The Corps Foundation was founded by retired USACE employees and partners who volunteer their time to support recreation at USACE lake and river projects. During their time as employees or contractors, the foundation’s board of directors were able to see the needs within the organization and created the non-profit foundation. The Corps Foundation has provided over $2.93 million in support of recreation, education and advocacy at USACE lake and river projects across the nation.
Founding the Foundation
Richard Deline is the founding director of the Corps Foundation. During his time as a U.S. Army contractor, he worked as a USACE communication contractor for the Seattle and Portland Districts. Deline’s firm was contracted to create a film for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial where he was able to follow the traveling group across the nation. The Bicentennial spanned four years from 2003 to 2006. While touring, the group stayed at USACE campgrounds, leading Deline to experience firsthand the extra support USACE recreation needed. During this time, he met Greg Miller, current foundation board chairmen, and they decided to found the Corps Foundation.
“The Corps Foundation’s mission is to engage the public to support recreation, education and stewardship at our nation’s lakes, lands and waterways administered by USACE,” said Deline.
While Miller was still working for the Kansas City District during the time the Corps Foundation was founded, he was the first liaison for USACE with the Corps Foundation. He retired after 34 years of dedicated service to USACE. Miller first started at USACE during the construction of the Mark Twain Project along with fellow board member, Nancy Rogers. In 1980, he became Outdoor Recreation Planner for the Kansas City District before moving on to be the recreation program manager for the South Atlantic Division until retirement.
Supporting Interpretive Experiences
The Corps Foundation’s first project in support of USACE was updating the interpretive program and funding repairs at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, located in Seattle, Washington, and known to locals as the Ballard Locks. The first donation to help support the interpretive program and facility at the Ballard Locks came through in the form a memorial gift.
While the interpretive plan and repairs at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks was the first way the foundation supported USACE, their most recent support comes in the form of interpretive kiosks. Pre-loaded with content when it arrives to each project that purchases one, the kiosk can serve as a way for visitors to learn more about USACE as a whole and information specific to the project.
“To address the nationwide decrease in funding of recreation, we came up with a method for smaller sites to actually provide professional interpretation and provide initial interpretive content,” said Deline.
One of these kiosks is in the Kansas City District at the Clinton Lake Project Office.
“We utilize the information and videos provided by the Corps Foundation. The kiosk is a popular and informational addition for our visitors at Clinton Lake,” said Samantha Jones, Clinton and Hillsdale lakes natural resource manager.
The Corps Foundation also supports USACE by advocating to lawmakers for increased funding to support USACE’s recreation business line. In 2022, the recreation business line received 3.70% of the civil works annual appropriations.
Nancy Rogers, advocacy and outreach director, joined the board specifically to lead the foundation’s support of increasing Congressional awareness of the USACE natural resource section. She periodically meets with legislators virtually or travels to D.C. to advocate for USACE.
Former board member, Pep Persio, would also travel with Rogers to D.C. Together they created an advocacy toolkit for partners and supporters to use when reaching out to their own Congressional representatives.
Rogers worked for USACE for 35 years. She started her career with Miller at Mark Twain Lake during its construction. In 1985, she transferred to the San Francisco District to manage the San Francisco Bay Model Visitor Center. She retired at the San Francisco District in 2010.
It is only fitting the first person she met during her first job with USACE was the one to bring her onto the board of directors for the Corps Foundation.
“I told Greg, I will join the foundation if I can work on advocacy and outreach. I never understood why bills were passed benefitting the National Park Service and the Forest Service and USACE was left out,” said Rogers.
With more than 262 million visitors annually, USACE public land is the second most visited of all federal land management agencies, exceeded only by NPS. Rogers is working to inform legislators of the social and economic benefits USACE projects provide to local communities.
Water Safety Partnership
One important partnership the Corps Foundation has is with USACE’s National Water Safety Program. The foundation has received several grants from the U.S. Coast Guard through the Sport, Fish, Restoration and Boating Trust Fund to support the Life Jackets Worn… Nobody Mourns, the National Water Safety Program’s adult water safety campaign. The Corps Foundation hired Rachel Garren to be the special programs director and grant manager to manage the grant money.
“The campaign was really born because of the foundation’s partnership with the USACE National Water Safety Program,” said Garren.
Garren served at the St. Louis District for 31 years before retiring. She led the interpretive services and outreach program for the district. Throughout her time with USACE she worked at lake projects, served many roles with the National Water Safety Program and even served on temporary assignment at USACE National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as the partnership program manager.
Visitors to USACE lakes will be familiar with the “I Got Caught” campaign, or possibly a recipient of one of the prizes. This campaign rewards those on water vessels seen by USACE park rangers wearing their life jacket with a prize. Some of the prizes given to adults funded by the foundation include dry bags or beach towels.
“With grant funds, we are able to supplement the campaign by purchasing additional advertising and buying items not authorized for USACE to purchase. By the end of 2023, we will have spent $1.4 million on the campaign,” said Garren.
Another partnership the Corps Foundation has is with the Innovations Team to help create apps for smart phones. The foundation’s newest chairperson, Kent Dunlap, regularly meets with the Innovations Team to collaborate on how to be more creative in support of USACE recreation.
“Partnering with others is important because it develops relationships to help broaden our [Corps Foundation] voice,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap served for over 40 years with USACE. He started at Oologah Lake within the Tulsa District as a summer park ranger while attending college at Oklahoma State University. He worked his way to becoming the chief of the Natural Resource Management Branch in the Tulsa District before transferring to the Ft. Worth District where he retired in 2021 as the operations project manager at Trinity Lake Project. During his career he also served on temporary assignment to USACE National Headquarters in the Career Advancement Program.
Besides using the Corps Foundation’s voice to advocate for USACE recreation and partnerships to promote water safety, the foundation also helps in recognizing USACE volunteers. The foundation awards USACE volunteers who have served six or more years with the Enduring Service Award.
Volunteers are also a large part in creating cooperating associations or friends groups for USACE projects. The local cooperating associations allow for fundraising directly benefiting specific lake projects. The foundation partnered with USACE to create a toolkit to help locals easily create cooperating associations.
Membership to the Corps Foundation is open to anyone, not just retirees or USACE employees. Current and previous board members have a wide background of knowledge and are hoping to increase it with new members. Still, technically in its teen years as a foundation, the lasting impact of support from the Corps Foundation is visible to all and will continue to provide to USACE.
For more information on the Corps Foundation please visit corpsfoundation.org