While the Obama administration's America's Great Outdoors initiative calls for creation of a Conservation Service Corps to connect youth with nature, the Yosemite Conservancy already has a similar program that brings youth into Yosemite National Park to learn about the outdoors.
But the organization needs your help to keep these programs going. Just the other day the Conservancy announced a campaign to raise $1.3 million to fund 11 Youth in Yosemite programs designed to connect kids with nature by using the park as a classroom. And by having the kids support the park through various projects, such as removing debris, restoring trails, or simply exploring the backcountry during a week-long trek, the programs establish connections between the kids and the outdoors.
"Connecting youth of all ages with nature and the park transforms lives," said Mike Tollefson, Yosemite Conservancy president. "Hands-on experience opens up new life choices."
The Conservancy currently is seeking contributions to fund Youth in Yosemite projects in 2011 that include a range of education, leadership and career development opportunities.
"Without structured programs, many young people would never experience the wilderness, or learn about the parks' cultural and natural history, or the importance of environmental conservation," said Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher. "Youth
programs create excitement about conservation that will inspire the next generation of park stewards and leaders."
Liliana, 16, from Dos Palos, Calif., participated in the Adventure Risk Challenge, a 40-day summer immersion program that uses the wilderness experience to improve academic, literacy and other skills. An excerpt from a poem she wrote during ARC, called I Am the Merced River, shows how the program inspired her:
I am the Merced River/Easy going and courageous/Always looking forward/Never looking back/Pushing myself to my potential/Flowing gracefully to my next journey.
Among the Youth in Yosemite projects are Junior Ranger programs, which last year taught more than 27,000 children ages 7-13 about nature during visits to the park. The Yosemite Leadership Program partners with National Park Service employees and University of California, Merced students to teach stewardship and leadership skills during academic year programs and summer internships. The WildLink Program gives high school students their first chance to spend time in Yosemite's wilderness during a week-long expedition in the park. Still other programs combine the best in youth development with park preservation, such as restoring trails, museum archiving or wilderness areas working alongside of National Park Service staff.
Donations to Youth in Yosemite programs can be made at www.yosemiteconservancy.org