Grants will help foster next generation of park stewards

Two programs to connect youths to national parks have received grants from the National Park Foundation. Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks each received $20,000 through the foundation’s America’s Best Idea program.

Overall, the foundation awarded more than $640,000 to 39 national parks through the program. Inspired by Ken Burns’ critically acclaimed documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” the program builds partnerships between national parks and the community, and works to inspire participants to become stewards of the national park system, according to a foundation news release.

“Through meaningful and memorable in-park experiences that highlight the natural, cultural and historical treasures in our National Park System, we are able to inspire the next generation of park-goers,” Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the foundation, said in the release.

“These National Park Foundation grants will help people acquire a better understanding of their national parks and, hopefully, of themselves, through place-based learning and recreational activities,” Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said in the release.

At Mount Rainier, the $20,000 is helping fund Base to Basecamp. The program provides teenagers from active-duty military families and underserved youth from Seattle with an intensive outdoor experience at the park. Participants work on a trail maintenance project that includes educational, recreational and career planning components. The program is a partnership with the Student Conservation Association.

This year’s efforts will build on a 2013 program funded in part by a similar grant, which brought to the park 11 youth from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, as well as 13 youths from ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in Seattle. Participants spend 15 days completing the trail project.

At Olympic, staffers will use the $20,000 grant to reconnect children from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe with the heritage of their ancestral lands. For thousands of years, the tribe called lands now in the park home. Today’s tribal youths lack connection to the lands where their ancestors lived, gathered plants, hunted, fished and participated in ceremonies and social traditions, the release said. Using the Elwha River Restoration Project as the backdrop, tribal youth will reconnect with the past through hands-on cultural and environmental science education. The project is a partnership with the tribe and NatureBridge.