“It’s pretty cool to say I work at the Arch,” notes St. Louis native Sean Carey. “Most people say, ‘Wait, what?’”
There have been a lot of changes lately at Gateway Arch National Park – including its designation. Last year, the former Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was upgraded to park status, coinciding with a vast renovation that added a sprawling waterfront green space, a glass-enclosed visitor center, and a world class museum.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the park’s commitment to engaging the broader St. Louis community.
Sean and fellow SCA intern Jenna Seagle have spent the bulk of their summer not at the Arch but with urban youth at camps in South City and teaching elementary school students from the Ferguson-Florissant School District how to fish and paddle a canoe. “The park maintains partnerships with numerous camps, and we put on the activities and outdoor recreational programs,” states Jenna.
Both Sean and Jenna say their outreach yields daily rewards. “Most of these kids have never experienced any of this before,” Sean says, “so it’s really cool to see them catch their first fish, or talk about going home to convince their parents to buy them an archery set.”
The interns are also working on large scale volunteer projects including an area bio-blitz and a Mississippi River clean-up.
Career and Educational Opportunities
For Jenna, a junior at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, her SCA internship has allowed her to “advance my career plans and make connections. Working at a national park is a really big deal and looks great on a resume.” She wants to get into environmental policy with a government agency or nonprofit organization.
Sean, who recently earned a biology degree from nearby Westminster College, says the hometown opportunity “seemed right up my alley: getting to educate kids and be outdoors every day.
“The Arch has a magnetic draw. It’s the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere, a testament to American ingenuity. It’s part of this city and part of this culture.”
The Arch also represents the nation’s westward expansion, and Sean is well aware that what was seen at the time as “manifest destiny” inflicted tremendous pain and suffering. In the Gateway Arch Museum, he is careful to point out to visitors the exhibits showing how, time and again, the U.S. government broke treaties and drove Native Americans from their tribal lands, largely through deadly conflict.
These, too, are among the lessons the interns share regularly, although with younger audiences they tend to focus on spurring connections to nature. Jenna points to a group of seven-year-olds she hosted just a few weeks ago at Don Robinson State Park, about 20 miles southwest of downtown.
“Our hike was taking longer than expected, and the kids were getting tired and hungry,” she recalls. “Despite all that, one girl walked up to me and said ‘I love being out here and doing all these things!’
“To help shape their perspectives on the world – it’s so rewarding to know you are converting these kids into future advocates for the environment.”