The Next Generation of Stewards in National Parks

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The National Park Service centennial is more than a celebration of the country’s most iconic outdoor places. It’s a time to step up and help the parks stay healthy and accessible for the next century, continuing the tradition that started in 1916.

With this in mind, The REI Foundation invested $1 million in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC), a national effort spearheaded by the U.S. Department of the Interior to establish quality jobs, career pathways and service opportunities for youth and veterans in America’s great outdoors. This money will directly fund stewardship projects in 19 national parks this year by paying young adults to repair and restore some of the most beloved trails and waterways in the parks system.

21CSC

Photo by National Park Service - Kevin Bacher.

In late July, participants in the newly created Wonderland Trail Conservation Corps and Olympic Conservation Corps gathered at Longmire campground in Mount Rainier National Park to share why they are dedicating their summers to steward the parks.

“My whole life—21 years—looking at this beautiful mountain, and now I get to give back to it. I couldn’t turn that down,” Wonderland Trail crew member Omar Nyctea told KING-TV. “I get the fulfillment of working hard and also the fulfillment of doing work I love in a place that I love. It can’t get any better. I’m going to remember this job as probably one of my favorites ever.”

Crew member Joshua Gurel echoed that sentiment to The News Tribune: “Before this I was working in a kitchen and I was not very happy doing that […] I studied ecology and botany and I wasn’t really utilizing what I learned there. So it’s really nice to be able to get out into the park and actually do something I care about.”

21CSC

Photo by National Park Service - Kevin Bacher.

These crews of young people in their late teens and early 20s will make long-term impacts on the parks. The Wonderland Trail Conservation Corps will restore the entire 93-mile trail over the next decade so hikers can experience the same bridges and curves that were present one hundred years ago. At Olympic National Park, the Conservation Corps will address the critical maintenance backlog to improve safety and the overall experience on the Enchanted Valley Trail.

As these crews transform the parks, they will also have unforgettable, life-changing experiences that will strengthen existing—or create new—connections to the outdoors. Creating these connections and engaging new audiences in the parks system was what inspired The REI Foundation to support 21CSC. These projects will hopefully inspire crew members to become the future leaders and advocates of the parks—a critical piece to maintaining these national treasures.

“Engaging diverse youth in the care and restoration of this magnificent trail will teach work skills, create new park stewards, benefit the tens of thousands of hikers who enjoy the trail each year, and serve to highlight the great good that can be achieved for our national parks and public lands through philanthropy,” Mount Rainier Superintendent Randy King said.

Marc Berejka, the president of The REI Foundation, knows that the parks are some of the most beloved outdoor places in the country and has helped the co-op take a long-term approach to stewardship of the parks—emphasizing that, “We’re all in for this year; we’re all in for the next century.”

Learn more about The REI Foundation’s support of 21CSC here or visit 21CSC.org. Download the National Park Mobile App on iOS or Android and learn more about the national parks on REI.com.

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