Photograph by Michael Nichols. Nat Geo Image Collection
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Visitors take pictures of Old Faithful, a hallmark of Yellowstone National Park. This month, park lovers will vote to determine which of 20 parks, including Yellowstone, will win $2 million.

Photograph by Michael Nichols. Nat Geo Image Collection

Which National Parks Do You Want to Get $2 Million?

This month, you have a chance to help choose which national parks, monuments, and more will win funding for preservation.

Twenty national park sites have the chance to win part of two million dollars in corporate funding. Those with the most votes will receive up to $250,000 for a preservation or restoration project—and it’s up to the public to choose which sites those will be. (Vote here.)

The 2016 Partners in Preservation contest gives voters the chance to support sites across the mainland United States, as well as ones in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.

National Geographic has partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express to also award one voter a free trip for two to Yellowstone National Park.

Preserving Our Heritage

Each national park, recreation area, monument, memorial, or historic site participating in the contest has designated a feature that it would use its winnings to preserve or restore. Many of them are historically important.

Puerto Rico’s San Juan National Historic Site hopes to use $250,000 to restores parts of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century legacy of Spanish colonialism. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, would use its winnings to preserve the outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the home church of one of America’s most important civil rights leaders.

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The Yellowstone River flows through a canyon in the iconic park.

“I think that for us to continue to mature as a society, we need to make sure that we’re preserving these places that can’t be replaced,” says John Hildreth, the trust’s senior advisor for preservation. This means not only protecting our natural heritage, but also “cultural and historic parts of our country and our story.”

According to the George Wright Forum, the National Park Service managed more than 6,500 historic buildings in 2014. Yet upkeep of these buildings and thousands of other historic assets (like roads, monuments, and memorials) often requires more funds than are available.

“The annual bill for maintenance in national parks is almost twice as much as appropriated,” says Jeremy Barnum, a National Park Service public affairs specialist, who notes the current maintenance backlog is $11.9 billion. (Read “National Parks Need a Big Shake-Up.”)

Still, Hildreth says that the goal of the contest isn’t just to award funding to national park sites—it’s also to encourage people to learn more about and explore the park system.

Rooting for the Home Team

Since the contest began, local news sites have been covering how the money would help the national park features in their area. And some have subtly, or not so subtly, tried to sway voter opinion in favor of their local park.

“If it were a beauty pageant, surely Mount Rainier National Park, with its glacier-topped volcanic cone, wildflower-spotted alpine meadows and towering hemlocks, would win,” writes Evan Bush in the Seattle Times about his state’s contender in the contest. If it won, the park would use the money to restore a historic cabin from which it would carry out search-and-rescue missions.

Bush didn’t explicitly tell his readers to vote for the nearest park, but Jenny Staletovich of Florida’s KeysInfoNet did, calling on readers to “cast a vote to restore the Flamingo Visitor Center at Everglades National Park.” The center was an early part of the Mission 66 program that brought modern architecture into the national parks in the 1950s and '60s.

All of this competition seems to be in good taste, though. No one is hating on other parks; rather, people are encouraging their communities to come together to help a local site.

Hildreth wants people to “have fun participating and voting for money for their parks,” he says. But he also hopes that “they look at all of the parks and all the different projects” to learn “what a great variety of historic resources there are in our parks.”

You can cast your vote for up to five parks through July 5.

Learn more about the #VoteYourPark campaign and hear from photographer David Guttenfelder about the importance of preserving national parks during a live Twitter chat on Monday, June 20 at 12:30pm ET. Tweet your questions with #NatGeoLive. 

This story was updated at 10:30 am ET June 16 to better clarify the history of the contest.

Follow Becky Little on Twitter.