One Way to Grow the Next Generation of Park Supporters

Participants in camping trip.

Photo by Colorado National Monument.

How do you grow the next generation of park supporters? One formula is a cookout, s'mores around a campfire, a ranger-guided hike complete with exciting wildlife sightings, and an overnight camping trip. Colorado National Monument recently used grant funding to make it possible for a group of youngsters to enjoy those classic outdoor experiences.

Many of us have fond memories of similar outdoor trips, but those experiences are becoming increasing rare for today's youngsters. Colorado National Monument, located not far from Grand Junction, Colorado, received a $5,000 youth grant from the national retailer Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), and put it to excellent use.

The "Gearing Kids Up For the Great Outdoors" grant was designed to give local youth the opportunity to camp as an extension to their annual environmental education field trip to the monument. This grant provided a way to show local youth that they don't have to travel far to camp, see wildlife, or visit a National Park Service site. The great outdoors is in their backyards.

School budgets are tighter than ever, and the lack of proper outdoor gear and funding for transportation prevent most schools from considering activities such as camping for their students. Part of the grant was used to set up a free gear loan program; teachers from Mesa County Valley School District 51 will now be able to check out camping gear from the park on a reservation basis.

The program recently got off to a great start with a group of fourth graders. The grant made it possible to outfit the entire group with camping gear, fund bus transportation, and provide food for the excursion. According to information from the park,

Last Thursday, on a crisp fall afternoon, 78 fourth graders from Pomona Elementary School set up camp in the Saddlehorn Campground. Later, as the sun set on the horizon, the students participated in a cookout, campfire sing-along, made s'mores, went on a night hike, and settled in for a starry night.

Early in the morning, the bright-eyed 4th graders came running for hot chocolate. After eating breakfast and breaking down camp, the students headed to the Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead for a ranger-guided hike to the base of Independence Monument. Along the way, they learned about weathering and erosion, wildlife, and native plant species found in the monument.

Soon after leaving the trailhead, the students spotted 18 desert bighorn sheep, numerous lizards, and two golden eagles soaring above. These firsthand encounters with wild creatures and camping for the first time remain the highlights for the trip: a rare experience that only a trip into the great outdoors can provide.

"We are so grateful to REI for their continued and active support of educational endeavors at the monument. We are just thrilled to be able to give local students the opportunity to discover, explore, and experience the great outdoors here at Colorado National Monument," says Joan Anzelmo, superintendent at Colorado National Monument.

This sounds like a great investment in the next generation of potential park supporters.