Staff from the National Park Service and two of its partner organizations just wrapped up the first year of an innovative new program aimed at getting youth interested in the national parks.
The National Park Teen Ambassadors program engaged 18 young adults from the Twin Cities and International Falls areas of Minnesota in an outdoor learning expedition in Voyageurs National Park while also getting valuable feedback from these teenagers on how the parks market themselves to younger generations.
Before the trip, the 18 Ambassadors spent their summer researching creative ways national parks could better reach out to their age group. They came up with several suggestions, including a National Park Service website just for teens, adventure trips, classroom visits, videos, and wildlife webcams, as well as college prep and teen advocacy activities.
The teens then participated in two camping trips over the summer. The trips were designed to give them an unforgettable and educational outdoor experience. The program was free for all participants so that financial resources were not a limitation for applying.
Staff from Wilderness Inquiry, Voyageurs National Park Association, and the National Park Service guided the group on the wilderness excursions. Most of the youth had never visited the park before. The teens paddled canoes, camped for three nights, spotted a gray wolf in Namakan Narrows, stargazed, hiked, and swam in the park’s remote interior lakes. The group also toured historical and geological sites, learned about bald eagle and invasive species research, toured the Kettle Falls Dam, and met with representatives from the International Joint Commission. The trip was designed to give the Ambassadors a wide variety of national park experiences that they could share with their peers.
This fall, the Ambassadors will wrap up the program by giving presentations to middle school classrooms, encouraging the next generation of Ambassadors to get involved.
“Giving youth the opportunity to spend quality time outdoors has never been more important,” said Park Superintendent Mike Ward. “We are so pleased that we had the partners who could make this happen and that there were 18 brave teens to try it out.”
The National Park Teen Ambassador program was funded by the National Park Foundation’s America’s Best Idea Grant. Voyageurs National Park designed the program with collaborators and financial sponsors Wilderness Inquiry, Voyageurs National Park Association, and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
Voyageurs National Park was selected as one of 49 national parks participating in the 2012 America’s Best Idea program sponsored by the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks. Inspired by the critically acclaimed Ken Burns documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the America’s Best Idea grant program funds park projects designed to connect diverse, under-engaged populations throughout the United States with their national parks in innovative and meaningful ways.
What the Ambassadors had to say about their experience
- “This program is important so that generations to come will also understand how important and special our national parks are.”
- “It was really cool to see the stars without light pollution and to see a wolf!”
- “I enjoyed everything. The outdoor experience was incredible. We got to see a beautiful natural environment that I never saw before and I’m so thankful for this great opportunity. I learned so much, but I can say my favorite part was swimming to an island on Kabetogama [Lake]. I was afraid but the group motivated me and the staff kept me safe.”
- “I think it’s important for our national parks to have Teen Ambassadors because we can go out and experience the park and tell other young people about it to get them interested too. Considering that young people are the future caretakers of every aspect of the country, you want to get them to care more about our national parks so they will always be around.”
- “My favorite part about the program was meeting new people and experiencing something I thought I would never experience.”
Voyageurs National Park spans more than 218,000 acres on the northern Minnesota border and is one of the nation’s premier water-based parks. The park is rich in natural, cultural, and geological history. With water making up over 30 percent of the landscape, visiting this park means stepping out of your car and embarking on a water-bound adventure. Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA) is a nonprofit conservation, advocacy, and program partner of the park, helping each new generation discover and steward Voyageurs. VNPA relies on membership and grant support to continue programs like the Teen Ambassadors. This story originally appeared on VNPA’s website.