(DENALI NATIONAL PARK, AK) August 11, 2011---U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), capped her "best of Alaska" tour with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) yesterday with the presentation of a special citation to a Student Conservation Association crew in Denali National Park.
Neither the officials nor the crew let a cool, rainy day dampen their outlooks. The SCA members - six high school-aged volunteers plus two adult crew leaders - were encrusted in mud from making improvements to the park's Savage Trail but Salazar, Murkowski, and Reed eagerly shared handshakes and hugs. Regional Park Service Director Sue Masica, Denali Superintendent Paul Anderson and other park staff were also present.
The senators, DOI and park officials stressed their commitment to expanding youth service opportunities on the nation's public lands, and engaged the SCA crew in an animated discussion of their experiences in Denali.
While noting the importance of Denali to Alaska's economy, a smiling Salazar put his arm around one of the SCA members and said "This administration is committed to youth conservation service and you embody that practice here in this magnificent national park."
The Secretary then presented the team with a framed photograph of Denali in recognition of SCA's ongoing conservation efforts in the park and across Alaska.
"For more than 50 years, SCA has engaged youth in nature, promoted lifelong stewardship, and prepared young people for green careers," says SCA Associate Vice President and Alaska Director Don Hunger. "As SCA expands its own programs, we look forward to supporting the America's Great Outdoors youth engagement initiative and the proposed 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps. In doing so, we will further expand our partners' capacities by adding skilled and motivated hands and accomplishing more of the critical work that needs to get done.
"Additionally, with today's alpine unemployment levels among younger Americans, programs like SCA provide a critical advantage for those entering the job market. We're glad Secretary Salazar and Senators Murkowski and Reed saved the best for last on their Alaskan tour. Together, we can give young people like those here in Denali more opportunities to protect our precious natural and cultural resources."
Last year, SCA youth leaders nationwide were instrumental in developing the America's Great Outdoors youth report, a federal initiative that calls for expanded youth service and employment opportunities to help reconnect youth to nature and meet the needs of public lands. SCA is currently working with the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and others to create new opportunities for youth to gain valuable career experience in national parks. Concurrently, SCA is implementing its own plan to dramatically expand the number of young people it engages in hands-on conservation service over the next five years to further support the nation's parks and forests as well as the workforce development needs of land management agencies and other green employers.
Seventeen-year old SCA crew member Cailyn Gray of Arlington, VA says she expected to see grizzly bears, moose and eagles while in Alaska, but meeting the federal dignitaries was another story altogether. "They were sincerely interested in hearing about our efforts and experiences," Gray says. "And it wasn't easy for them to get here. They were awesome.'
Senator Reed, chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, encouraged the teenagers to consider careers with the National Park Service, stating "you are our best hope." Murkowski closed the session by thanking the crew for sharing their time and passion. "Although you are not from Alaska, you will take Alaska with you," Murkowski said while patting her heart. "And you'll also take the skills you learned here back to your communities and I hope they serve you well."
SCA, a national nonprofit organization that annually places thousands of young interns and volunteers on public lands in all 50 states, recently launched an expansion of its Alaska programs, with a specific emphasis on providing service and job training opportunities for Native Alaska youth. SCA is collaborating with local partners to fulfill the workforce development needs of federal and state agencies and provide young workers with new skill sets and hands-on experience, and is also working with Alaska's youth-focused community of non-profits, Native Corporations, universities and public land agencies to provide integrated programming, leadership and career development opportunities for the state's young people.
Earlier in the three-day tour, Murkowski, Reed and Salazar visited the Bureau of Land Management's Alaska Fire Center in Fairbanks as well as several energy facilities on the North Slope.
The Student Conservation Association is the only national organization that develops tomorrow's conservation leaders by providing high school and college students with service opportunities in all 50 states, from urban communities to national parks and forests. More than 4,000 SCA members annually render over two million hours of service to America's public lands. Since 1957, SCA has helped to develop new generations of conservation leaders, inspire lifelong stewardship, and save the planet. SCA maintains offices in Anchorage, AK, Boise, ID, Charlestown, NH, Oakland, CA, Pittsburgh, PA, Seattle, WA and Washington, D.C. For more information, visit www.thesca.org
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