For outdoor advocates, April is an active month, encompassing everything from Earth Day to National Volunteer Week and National Garden Month. And from 4/21-4/29, we celebrate National Park Week.
Although today’s SCA volunteers serve a wide array of federal, state, and municipal lands, we got our start in national parks more than 60 years ago when Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks hosted the original 53 SCA volunteers – the first in a long green line that now stretches more than 85,000 strong.
Grand Teton National Park was also the site of the 2011 launch of NPS Academy, a workforce/professional development program jointly conducted by the park, SCA, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, and the Teton Science Schools. NPS Academy prepares young people from all backgrounds for careers in the National Park Service. To date, nearly 500 students have participated as the program has expanded to other parks including Great Smoky Mountains, Kenai Fjords, and the National Parks of New York Harbor.
Grand Teton National Park Foundation President Leslie Mattson believes the imperative to connect diverse young people with America’s parklands has never been greater. “As NPS Academy graduates become the faces of places Like Grand Teton National Park, and people of all cultures see themselves in our parks, only then can we all truly share in our rich national park heritage,” Mattson states. The Foundation, which initiates improvements, research, and outreach to enrich visitors’ experiences at Grand Teton NP, annually provides significant philanthropic funding to support NPS Academy.
The program begins each spring with a one-week orientation. Last March, 17 participants converged on Jackson Hole, WY for a fast-paced series of field projects, workshops, and recreational activities designed to introduce them to employment opportunities in science and resource management, interpretation, law enforcement and rescue, planning and policy, business, facilities, and more. To the average observer, it might have looked like drinking from the proverbial firehose, but these students soaked it all in.
“In 2016, I spent a week volunteering at Grand Canyon National Park, where I had the privilege of attending a lecture by [SCA Founder] Liz Putnam,” noted Texas native Olivia Beitelspacher. “I was captivated by SCA’s history and I fell in love with its mission. I will take my newfound knowledge from NPS Academy and share is with as many people as possible back home.”
Academy students play the role of park ambassadors between now and the end of school. In May, they’ll begin summer-long internships. Olivia will return to Grand Teton as a park interpreter, as will Vivien Owusu-Sampah of Leesburg, VA.
“When I was very young,” Vivien says, “my favorite television station was always Animal Planet. With so many species declining in population and facing a harsh and unforgiving existence, it would truly satisfy my spirit to be one of those heroic individuals who have dedicated their lives to making a difference.”
Look for further updates on NPS Academy as students prepare for and fulfill their 12-week national park internships this summer.