The end of summer is always bittersweet for me. Although I am incredibly excited to begin another year of school and see all my college friends again, I will miss the adventures that I had this summer. Working on this project has been a great experience for me. I have learned so much these past three months about National Park Service jobs, the Klondike Gold Rush and even just about myself. It was amazing how much you can learn in such a short amount of time. While working on this project, I learned everything from creating a website to building research plots for protecting butterflies. It is not every day in which you come across a job that is so versatile.
But, on a less self-involved note, I have learned about the some challenges that the National Park Service faces. Those working in the National Park Service would love to make the parks more accessible and more diverse. However, the parks don’t really have the necessary funds to make this possible. The national parks are technically owned by the people, by us. However, it is unfair that, as of now, many national parks can only really be reached by people with cars. This almost completely excludes middle school and high school aged youth.
Interest in the national parks is another issue that the National Park Service faces. Getting youth to actually want to visit the parks can be difficult. Honestly, a surprising amount of people don’t actually know what the national parks are. Although I grew up visiting Washington parks with my family, I need to remember that most people didn’t have that same experience. Sure, every Seattleite knows about Mount Rainier, but they don’t necessarily know that there is a national park there. So the problem is not only trying to interest youth in the national parks, but also actually letting youth know that the parks exist.
So how do we remedy this? I am not an expert at creating programs or policies to enact, but I do have an idea. I suggest that we increase national park education into our public school curriculum. I believe the best age for this would be juniors and/or seniors in high school. This would make the best age for the lesson because they are more likely to have driver’s licenses and I have found that older ages tend to have a more developed appreciation for nature. The overall program could be a lesson in conservation and include information about the National Park Service’s role in conservation. If this program had an amazing unlimited budget, I would hope that it would culminate in a day trip to one of the Washington national parks. However, I do admit that this would be difficult to actually create. First, you would have to petition to change the public school curriculum, and then you would have to secure the funding to support this program. It would be extremely difficult and would most likely take years to enact, but perhaps we need something big to involve youth in the national parks.
Another idea is to specifically market the national parks as a fun place for youth to go. The National Park Service has a limited ability to promote the parks because of various regulations, but that is where projects like In My Backyard can enter the picture. In My Backyard is meant to encourage youth to explore the public lands of Washington. This project even offers incentives for attending the parks by listing the jobs, volunteer positions and internships available at each park. In My Backyard also researches ways to get to the parks without a car. However, one of the most important benefits of In My Backyard is that the project raises awareness to the issues that the National Park Service faces. A problem, such as transportation to the parks, cannot be remedied if it is not known. We hope that In My Backyard will be able to provide youth with all the necessary information they need to visit the special places in their own backyard.
–Claire, SCA Intern