Olympic National Park: Catalyst For Student Conservation

Seattle Post Intelligencer
Tuesday, July 2, 2013

SCA Founder marks the Anniversaries of Olympic National Park & SCA

This month marks the 75th Anniversary of Olympic National Park – an appropriate time to celebrate all that Olympic offers to the greater Seattle area as well as its place of honor within the breathtaking beauty of our national park system. It’s also a poignant moment for me personally, because Olympic is where I launched – more than 50 years ago – what has become the flagship of youth conservation in America, the nonprofit Student Conservation Association (SCA), an organization whose commitment of volunteers – primarily high school and college students – in our nation’s parks is as important now as ever.

In 1955, I graduated from Vassar College, and at the time – much as today – our national parks were grossly underfunded and in great need of additional care and stewardship. In my senior thesis, I posed a question: What if students volunteered in our national parks; could they be of help? I decided to answer that question and was encouraged by mentors to visit Olympic National Park, among others, and talk to their staffs about my concept. 

With the help of a college friend, Martha Hayne Talbot, officials at Olympic and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming agreed to test the idea. We recruited volunteer students, their work led to more volunteers in more parks, and before long the Student Conservation Association was incorporated. Today, SCA has over 70,000 alumni. Annually, more than 4,000 SCA members render over two million hours of service to America’s public lands.