“There was never a moment when I wasn't having the greatest time of my life.”
Melvin Moreno is a youth advocate who joined two YouthWorks in the Parks trips in 2016, first as a participant, then as a mentor to new first-time participants. YouthWorks in the Parks is a cooperative program of NPCA, YouthWorks Salt Lake, and Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, which exposes youth of diverse backgrounds from the Salt Lake Valley to Utah’s national parks and public lands, many for the first time. They experience new recreation adventures while learning about careers in land management, tourism and outdoor recreation as well as what it means to be an advocate for their public lands.
Moreno, a junior at Innovation High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, loves doing community service and is also currently helping to raise funds for an educational trip to Washington, D.C., for himself and 68 of his classmates. I asked him about his experience with YouthWorks in the Parks.
Q: What motivated you to want to experience Arches and Canyonlands National Parks?
Seeing the pictures and knowing that I would be spending time with friends and family. We spent 4-plus hours in a car that first day, driving from Salt Lake, listening to “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson every single time we started driving again after a stop.
On the first night we listened to retired NFL player Darryl Haley, who spoke about living life in 40-second intervals. It helped me realize that you shouldn’t worry about the past, but should really focus on what you’re doing right now.
We hiked and saw some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I met some new and amazing people that went to the same school as me. I went on the second trip to Canyonlands because of all the memories of the first trip to Arches National Park, and because I wanted to be there to see the look on everyone’s faces, and hopefully, see the change in someone else, too.
Q: How do you think being a part of the YouthWorks program in Salt Lake City prepared you to participate in these YouthWorks in the Parks trips?
I was a shy and quiet child before I went to YouthWorks, and I came out of their program as a kid who wanted to explore the world and meet new people. Without that, I don’t think I would even remotely be close to who I am today or be doing all the good and cool things that I am doing now. For that, I am truly grateful.
Q: Is there anything that surprised or amazed you about your YouthWorks in the Parks trips?
Honestly, everything on the trips surprised and amazed me! The first time, I was amazed at how important the soil crust is to the ecosystem. I was surprised and frustrated at how people just kept stepping on the crust. With one step, they destroy over a hundred years of growth. The second time, I was amazed at myself for jumping into the Colorado River and so surprised at how cold it was. It was like the opposite of hell times two, it was SO COLD. From the minute we were on the road to Moab to the moment we got out of the car at the very end, the experience was visually exquisite and brought out deep emotions inside of me.
Q: What were the highlights of your visits first to Arches National Park and then to Canyonlands National Park?
The biggest highlight of the Arches trip was going to one of the more remote arches. Seeing the split between Colorado and Utah will always be sealed in my memory. My best memory from Canyonlands was hiking to an ancient cave used for ritual and ceremony. But truly, it’s all been highlights. There was never a moment on either trip when I wasn’t having the greatest time of my life.
Q: What national park are you hoping to visit next, and why?
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I want to go to as many national parks as I can. Right now I’ve got my eyes set on Zion National Park because I want to go to all the “Mighty Five.” When I look at the photos from the Moab trips, there’s this feeling that just goes through me, and I get this strong urge to go.
Q: What is your favorite part about camping?
I had never slept in a teepee before, and I loved it. My favorite part was staying up all night talking and watching the stars. It was one of the best feelings in the world and a memory that I will always cherish.
Q: How would you encourage other young people to get out and experience national parks?
I plan on giving a presentation to my school about national parks to show that national parks are more than just beautiful sites. I believe that the youth in our community can really preserve the national parks by learning about their history. That was the first thing that got me interested, and I hope that’s what will get other youth interested. I plan on getting the word out by social media, talking face to face and giving presentations. Any way I can spread the word about national parks, I want to do it.
Q: What do you think young people can do to help preserve our national parks?
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National parks are basically being destroyed by people who just don’t realize that some of their actions have negative effects. Some of the things I noticed were trash that people left around, people not sticking to the paths and stepping on the soil crust, and graffiti that destroys the history behind it when people carve their initials in the rock. There is so much history in the rock and when people leave graffiti they are destroying that. There is no need for that.
Q: What kind of advice or preparation were you to able to convey to the new group of youth who joined you on this last trip in September?
It felt great being able to tell other people what they could expect about some of the things we would be doing and the kind of feelings they might experience. When we were on our way back home, I asked them how they felt. I got a couple different responses, but most of them were in the range of being “bittersweet.” Sweet because they had this amazing experience and met fantastic new people. But bitter because it was coming to an end. And then sweet again because they realized they would be able to a take a shower once they got home!
About the author
Erika Pollard Associate Director, Southwest Region, Southwest
Erika is a Senior Program Manager in the Southwest region. She focuses primarily on issues concerning the national parks in Utah.