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The Mountain Institute (TMI): Sacred Mountains Program


The Mountain Institute (TMI) is a secular, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting mountain ecosystems and mountain communities through advocacy, education, and outreach. Based in Washington, D.C., TMI has offices and runs programs in the Andean, Himalayan, Appalachian, and other mountain ranges in the United States. In addition to working with local communities on environmental and cultural conservation issues, the Institute works on the global level as well through its Mountain Forum, Sustainable Living Systems, and Sacred Mountains initiatives.

Based on the belief that environmental conservation programs need to be grounded in deeply held values and cultural beliefs to assure long-term sustainability, the Mountain Institute initiated the Sacred Mountains Program in 1999. Through this program, TMI works with the National Park Service (NPS) and other conservation organizations to develop innovative, interpretive, and educational materials based on the evocative associations of mountains and mountain environments in various cultures in the United States (US) and abroad. As the highest features of the landscape, mountains are associated with high ideals and aspirations in many different societies, making them especially suitable for environmental conservation programs. By drawing on spiritual and cultural traditions such as Native American, Native Hawaiian, African-American, Asian American, and Latino, the project helps to diversify the visitor base for National Parks and protected areas in the United States and presents multiple perspectives that enrich the general public’s experience of nature and encourage stewardship of the environment. The project also seeks to help indigenous peoples protect their sacred sites and present information about their relationships with Parks and protected areas from their own cultural perspectives. The traveling outreach exhibits, interpretive trails, educational wayside signs, publications, and artwork are intended to resonate with people by connecting to their cultural traditions and to foster deep-seated desires to conserve the environment, in both parks and at home. The content for these materials is based on the role of mountains and mountain environments in major world religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and many diverse indigenous traditions.

Specific projects of the Sacred Mountains Program include: a traveling offsite exhibit at Mount Rainier that displays different cultural and spiritual views of mountains along with evocative quotes and images. Park rangers are now taking this exhibit to fairs, community centers, conventions, and other venues in the Seattle-Tacoma area. An interpretive trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park links natural features along the Ococanluftee River to Cherokee stories and traditions through wayside exhibits in English and Cherokee. The “Experience Your America” exhibit at Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemite National Parks combines inspirational quotes and photographs to highlight spiritual themes evoked by mountains and nature in major National Parks. Workshops have been created to help interpreters, teachers, and volunteers integrate spiritual, inspirational, and cultural content into traditional physical science programs through workshops. In Hawaii, native elders will select two traditional Hawaiian works of art dedicated to the sacredness of Mauna Loa and Kilauea Volcanoes and the volcano goddess Pele to be commissioned for the newly renovated Kilauea Visitors Center at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

Religion Inter-religious
Geographic Location International
(primarily the United States of America)
Duration of Project 1999–Present
History Three pilot sites were chosen for the Sacred Mountains Program when it was launched in 1999: Mount Rainier, the Rocky Mountain, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Parks. These three parks represent three major regions of the National Park Service that span the country from the Southeast to the Pacific West, with the Intermountain Region in the middle. Their geographic distribution, high profiles in the park system, proximity to urban areas with culturally diverse populations, local Native American tribes, and their different mountain environments made them excellent places to develop interpretive products that could serve as models in succeeding phases of the project, both within the National Park Service and elsewhere in the United States (US) and abroad. Once sample projects where developed and evaluated, the Program expanded to Yosemite, the Hawai’ian Volcanoes, and the North Cascades National Parks as well as the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. In May 2002, the Sacred Mountains Program received the Pacific West Region Partnership Achievement Award from the National Park Service for its collaboration on the Mountain Views traveling offsite exhibit at Mount Rainier. At present, the Sacred Mountains Program is working with the Asian Program of TMI and other, potential partners in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to develop a new “Sacred Values and Biodiversity Conservation Initiative” that will use sacred sites in South Asia as a basis for developing programs of environmental awareness and conservation that come out of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and other traditions.
Mission Statement “The mission of TMI’s Sacred Mountains Program is to include the spiritual and cultural significance of mountains and mountain ecosystems in interpretive and environmental programs, encourage respect for the values and traditions of cultures that revere mountains, promote the protection of sacred sites around the world, and encourage the general public to develop their own reasons for protecting the environment.”
Partner Organizations Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
North Cascades National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Yosemite National Park
National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
Alliance of Religions and Conservation
Eastern Band of the Cherokee
G. B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development
Los Angeles Community Partners
Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Friends of the Smokies
Kupuna Committee of Native Hawaiian Elders
Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance Program,
The Volcano Art Center
World Indigenous Science Network
Long-Term Goals None Listed
Bibliography None Listed
Additional Research Resources None Listed
Contact Information

Edwin Bernbaum, Director
Sacred Mountains Program
1846 Capistrano Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94707
Ph:       510.527.1229
Fax:      510.527.1290
email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Jeremy Spoon
Program Officer
Sacred Mountains Program
3131 Pualei Circle, #7
Honolulu, HI 96815
email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)