America's Best Idea

How We Help

Inspired by the Ken Burns’ film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” which originally premiered on PBS in September 2009, the America’s Best Idea program connects diverse, underserved and under-engaged populations throughout the United States with their national parks in innovative and meaningful ways through a variety of environmental, adventure, historical, and other activities.

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Success Story


America's Best Idea Photos

America’s Best Idea Grantees

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
"Exploring Your Own Backyard - The Park Next Door" will convert a group campsite into an overnight educational facility to be used by Title 1 students from seven surrounding counties.
Bryce Canyon National Park
"Building Stewardship Careers Through Cultural Traditions" will immerse Southern Paiute youth in their traditional homelands, providing overnight experiences and learning activities regarding their cultural heritage, while instilling a sense of tenure and concern for the stewardship of park, forest, and public lands.
Brown V Board of Education National Historic Site
"Keeping the Dream Alive" will engage at-risk 4th & 5th grade students in a series of five-day camp programs, fostering stewardship through an increased understanding and appreciation of Civil War to Civil Rights sites and historic and natural landscapes within Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area.
Canyon De Chelly National Monument
The "Native Youth Conservation Project" engages Native American youth in a conservation corps model through which they will help preserve and protect the natural character of Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
Cape Cod National Seashore
Youth from the Boys and Girls Club in Chelsea will experience "Adventure as a Lifestyle" on Cape Cod this year. During monthly visits they will snorkel, canoe, camp, and learn about conservation and potential careers in national parks. As part of the project, students will choose a conservation issue at the park and implement activities to help.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Students from Ocracoke School and Harkers Island Elementary School will experience first-hand what life was like for residents of the two historic island villages - Portsmouth Village and Cape Lookout Village. The project will help foster a sense of stewardship for the park, and allow students to discover the relevance that the park has in their life and their family's lives.
Congaree National Park
A joint venture between the Old-Growth Bottomland Forest Research and Education Center and the Columbia Museum of Art, this project will provide 5 integrated, standards-based experiences to engage more than 1,100 students (many minority, low-income, and first-time visitors) in the art and science of soil. Two youth interns will help with program delivery.
Denali National Park and Preserve
On a 7-day Denali Expedition, Alaskan high school students will patrol with a wilderness ranger and learn to gather and monitor data such as vegetation changes and human impacts on wilderness. Through hands-on experience, discussion, and guided journal reflection, the youth will learn about park management issues and share their thoughts on how to make the park increasingly relevant to their generation.
Everglades National Park
Everglades' "Wilderness Writing Expedition" will engage aspiring young writers on a 9-week exploration of wilderness and writing. Activities will include a facilitated dialogue session, two 6-hour trips into the wilderness, a 3-night/4-day wilderness expedition, and a post panel discussion. Students will document their experiences through written works and will donate one piece of work to the park.
George Washington Carver National Monument
The "Engaging Native American Youth Partnership" is an initiative with Native American leaders and youth to gather input and suggestions as to how the park can attract Native American visitors and increase diversity at the park. It is supported by the park's key partner -- the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, a Cooperative Study Unit at Washington State University.
Glacier National Park
This park and its partners will use the art of photography to encourage youth (diverse, underserved middle school students) to take an interest in learning about conservation and stewardship, while giving them something to take home and share with friends and family.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Native American youth will engage in resource stewardship, citizen science, and service-learning projects along the San Juan River. By introducing youth to the ecology and geology of the river, they will learn natural resource concepts and issues in their local area, including native plant restoration and desert bighorn sheep research.
Grand Teton National Park
"Young Stewards & Leaders" is a multicultural leadership program for Teton County's high school students. During this year-long program, youth participate in 3 overnight retreats in the park and enjoy a conservation-focused speaker series that connects them to nature and plants the seeds for future careers.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
A 5-day Junior Archaeologist Camp will include 3 field study days at Fort Garland and Great Sand Dunes, 1 day exploring collections at Great Sand Dunes, digitally exploring collections at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and 1-day for presentations to parents and park staff.
Independence National Historical Park
"Project Write" is an intensive writing and visual arts experience for Philadelphia students entering grades 9 through 12. It offers a writing and digital literacy curriculum using the park's history and sites as inspiration. The program is place-based, with students attending camp in the park for 2 weeks in the summer.
Jimmy Carter National Historic Site
The "Healthy You, Healthy Community" project will engage youth from Sumter County Boys and Girls Club and give them the chance to design and plant gardens, learn about healthy living from a nutritionist, build composting worm beds, hike in Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, harvest crops, deliver food to a local food bank, and more.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Building on the success of last year, this project offers week-long day camps at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site for youth with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Three partner organizations will help implement the sensory activities designed to facilitate communication and social skills.
Katmai National Park and Preserve
Remote Katmai National Park is known for its high population of brown bears, but the only way most people can access the park is virtually. So, in partnership with and DISNEY, Katmai is taking the bears directly into schools, youth organizations, private groups, and military bases through green-screen/polycom/webcam technologies.
Kobuk Valley National Park
For the first time, Inupiat Eskimo students will be able to explore the wilderness of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, which is literally in their backyard at 150 roadless miles away. This science camp will show high school students how to arrange a trip, enjoy a 4-day camping experience, and they'll also participate in 10 different science activities in a designated wilderness area.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
This program will engage students in the "Illinois: Slavery to Freedom" web-based initiative that uses Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln Home National Historic Site as the touchstone for telling the story of slavery to freedom in Illinois, from slavery's introduction on the rural Illinois frontier in the 1700s through the early civil rights struggles of Chicago in the 1920s.
Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
A major part of LBJ's legacy was the Civil Rights Act, out of which grew the Americans with Disabilities Act. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, deaf and hard-of-hearing students from Galludet University will create a digital media interpretive product for LBJ Memorial Grove that can be enjoyed by hearing impaired and non-hearing impaired visitors alike.
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Hundreds of youth in YMCA after school programs will be introduced to a broad array of academic and recreational opportunities along the Mississippi River. Through outing club adventures ranging from canoeing to cooking to studying water quality to fishing and wilderness cooking, kids will connect with the park and be encouraged to return with their families.
Mount Rainier National Park
Base to Basecamp is designed to provide teenagers from active duty military families and underserved youth from Seattle with an intensive outdoor experience at Mount Rainier National Park, completing a trail maintenance project that includes educational, recreational, and career planning components.
Moores Creek National Battlefield
A joint partner venture will provide 4 week-long Summer Enrichment Camps for local, underserved students in this rural area. Two science curriculum-based camps will be offered to elementary and middle school-aged children and two social studies curriculum-based camps will be offered to middle school-aged children.
National Capital Parks
The Fly By Light: Discover Your True Nature program is a pilot partnership with the NPS National Capital Region parks, which provides vulnerable D.C. youth with safe spaces in which they can learn to express themselves emotionally and artistically in the outdoors through a series of after-school workshops and retreats.
Olympic National Park
For thousands of years the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe called lands in Olympic National Park home. Yet today, tribal youth lack connection to the lands where their ancestors lived, gathered plants, hunted, fished, and participated in ceremonies and social traditions. Using the Elwha River Restoration Project as the backdrop, tribal youth will reconnect with their culture of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Seashore Youth Ambassadors Project will engage first generation immigrant middle and high school youth and their families in recreational and educational activities in the park. Youth will explore the Outer Coast, Grasslands, Shrublands, Estero/Wetlands, Bishop Pine Forest to learn about conservation and they will then share what they learned with another group of underserved youth who live farther away.
Rosie the Riveter WWII / Home Front National Historical Park
Hometown/Richmond! is a year-round youth engagement collaborative addressing the risk factors associated with economic inequality, poor academic performance, and crime & violence. Students learn a strong work ethic, the biology and engineering of urban agriculture, and will serve those less fortunate by supporting a local rescue mission farm plot.
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Building the River Connections Program at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway connects a wide array of groups to the riverway and the outdoors in ways that promote physical, mental, and social well-being. Focused on Ojibwe youth, low-income families, and veterans, the activities include fishing, camping, outdoor cooking, service projects, and more.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Local, underserved high school students will apply classroom learning to real-life scientific research by assisting with the collection of largely untapped, mission critical underwater data. During multiple visits to the park, students from Galileo Academy of Science and Technology will program and operate an underwater remotely operated vehicle and submersible inspection grade camera to study the park's submerged resources.
The White House and President's Park
During a 5-day symposium in July 2014, The British Are Coming...Again: Place-Based Learning for Teachers and Students on the War of 1812 will use lectures, site visits, and various internet-based tools to introduce teachers and students to the War of 1812 and its lasting impacts. Building off an established partnership with a Belgian non-profit, teachers will return to their classrooms and pair with Belgian schools to have students develop media products related to the war.
Virgin Islands National Park
Passing the Torch - Student Ambassadors of Caribbean Culture is designed to help elders pass on traditional knowledge about plants and trees to the younger generation. Elders will hold craft classes once a week for several months, and once the students become proficient in the crafts they will then participate in the cultural demonstrations that the park conducts at Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins and at the Cinnamon Bay campground.
Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
Wilson's Creek Explorer Summer Quest is designed to immerse local youth in the significance of the national park in their backyard. In partnership with the Republic Parks and Recreation Program, the park will host a summer camp that will introduce youth to family life in the 1860s, multiple perspectives of battle history, a soldier's life, nature and critical environment issues, careers with the National Park Service, and more.
Yosemite National Park
"Take care of nature, and nature will take care of you." This is the theme that a world renowned climber and a Tribal Elder from the Southern Sierra Miwok Nation will impart to Native American youth who participate in a series of day trips and a multi-night camping trip in Yosemite. During walks to Cascade Falls, a visit to Fern Springs, a picnic in El Cap Meadow, a visit to the Miwok Village, and camping above 8,600’, the youth will learn to understand the natural world, learn to respect the park, and identify themselves as stewards of the earth.
Zion National Park
The expanded Concrete to Canyons program will connect underserved youth and families from Las Vegas, Nevada with Zion National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and new park partner, Parashant National Monument. Emphasizing in-depth wilderness understanding, experience, and stewardship, the program strives to build life-long connections to national parks through wilderness introduction, engagement, and post-program community development.
Yellowstone National Park
Forty youth and 10 youth leaders (ages 15-25) will spend a week working on maintenance and resource projects, participating in leadership exercises, and hiking and recreating in America's first national park. They will learn about the NPS mission, and about the cultural and natural resources in Yellowstone as part of the 2014 Yellowstone /Groundwork USA Urban Youth Engagement Project.
Weir Farm National Historic Site
Inner City Girls Scouts will participate in the Art Alive! curriculum-based program, the Junior Ranger Pond Pack Activity, Paintbrush Limbo, and Take Part in Art program with a professional artist. Over the course of their visits, the Girl Scouts will be given interpretive tours, participate in thematic games, and go on an educational hike that includes nature-based learning activities and unstructured exploration.
Prince William Forest Park
Low income youth from the Mid-Atlantic region will get immersed in environmental education at a camp built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Under the themes of Interconnections, Sense of Place, and Stewardship, students will experience hands-on, inquiry-based field science, covering topics from the water cycle to park cultural history.


America’s Best Idea” is made possible through the generous support of L.L. Bean, DISNEY, the Anschutz Foundation, and the Ahmanson Foundation.