"Parks in Focus" Program Brings Kids To Camp in Grand Canyon National Park

A program that focuses on getting kids out into the national parks has been bringing youth from Arizona to the Grand Canyon. NPS photo.

While there's been concern about getting younger generations out into the national parks, there's a program at work that recently brought some middle school students to Grand Canyon National Park for a camping experience.

This summer, two dozen "underserved" middle school students from Tucson, Arizona, were able to experiencing many camping “firsts” -- sleeping in a tent, standing on the edge of one of the world's most famous canyons, gazing at stars in the dark of night -- thanks to a 12-year-long collaboration between Grand Canyon National Park and the Tucson-based Udall Foundation on a program called Parks in Focus.

The Stewart L. Udall Parks in Focus program kicked off its 2011 summer season in June with two outdoor immersion trips to Northern Arizona for youth from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson. A two-night camping and hiking adventure at the Grand Canyon was the highlight of the five-day trips, though participants also are able to explore national monuments, state parks, and other public lands before making their way to the majestic canyon they’ve heard about, but never seen.

The youth are being taught and guided by a team of trained Udall Foundation coordinators and Grand Canyon National Park rangers, and supervised by staff from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson. The intent is to connect the youth to nature through photography.

Twelve of the 24 preteens from the June trips were selected to join a second, more advanced program in late July called Grand Canyon in Focus (GCIF). Piloted in 2009 to build from Udall’s classic PIF model, GCIF is a six-day, hiking, camping, outdoor-learning, photography-skill-honing extravaganza that provides youth with a behind-the-scenes view of the park, park management, and park careers.

The young photographers have also benefited from the mentorship of professional photographers Adam Schallau and Mike Buchheit. With immersion programs like GCIF, Grand Canyon environmental educators hope to build enthusiasm for the outdoors and to foster a sense of stewardship for national parks. “Unlike most organizations that focus solely on getting kids outside, PIF introduces the art of photography and digital story-telling in a way that greatly increases the impact of the outdoor experience on the youth, and magnifies the way that experience will live on for our youth participants, their families, friends, and communities,” says Ellen Wheeler, executive director of the Udall Foundation.

More than 400 underserved youth have gone on PIF trips, with another 175 expected to participate in the program in 2011. For more information, please visit: http://pif.udall.gov.