Exploring New Possibilities in the Great Outdoors

Yellow aspen trees at Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

For some, the idea of national park adventures can seem like lofty or unattainable dreams. Students sing “America the Beautiful,” yet have not seen the country’s purple mountain majesties or the Midwest’s amber waves of grain – or even the remarkable places that are protected as part of the National Park System in their backyard.

To connect more people to these treasures, the National Park Foundation works with a variety of partners to support important programs. Partnerships like these often enable us to fund initiatives that create meaningful experiences for youth in the natural, cultural, and historical wonders of our national parks.

For the past three years, we’ve teamed up with The North Face through its Explore Fund to support nonprofit organizations working to engage people with America’s public lands and encourage outdoor participation. Programs like The North Face Explore Fund provide participants with experiences in national parks, often for the first time, and help to preserve these places. Here are just a few examples of how this innovative partnership facilitates transformative opportunities across the country.

Awakening Their Inner Environmentalists

It’s never too early to begin teaching children the importance of caring for themselves, as well as the natural world. That’s why we teamed up with Environmental Learning for Kids’ (ELK). The Explore Fund grant will support ELK’s Denver Youth Naturally, an intensive program that provides youth ages 5-25 with meaningful outdoor and educational experiences in national parks and federally managed lands. Just imagine gaining confidence and a love for the outdoors as you fish, hike, test water quality, and improve habitats in places like Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, and Grand Canyon national parks — life-transforming experiences!

Exploring California’s Treasures

Some of our nation’s most iconic national parks can be found in California. So imagine living so close to these stunning landscapes and historic places, yet never having visited them yourself. Working with California Conservation Corps Foundation (CCCF), a nonprofit whose goal is to advance the personal growth and career opportunities of California Conservation Corps members, the Explore Fund grant will support CCCF’s Women in Wilderness (WiW) program. The program takes place in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Inyo National Forest and will lead six to eight women of color, ages 18-26, on an immersive 8-day, 40-mile hike into the backcountry, combining project work — like trail improvements — with skills training. The goal? To help connect visitors from diverse backgrounds to national parks while simultaneously providing participants with pathways to stewardship and employment in natural resource management.

Preserving Paradise

For many, living in or visiting Hawai'i is already a dream. However, the beauty of the islands must be maintained in order for them to remain rich in natural and cultural resources. That’s why Kupu is working with Hawai'i Youth Conservation Corps (HYCC) to prepare under-resourced youth for the workforce by providing them with life-skills training, green jobs, and volunteer opportunities. The Explore Fund grant will support the HYCC’s summer program in 2019, engaging over 95 corps members and team leaders across the islands of O'ahu, Maui, Hawai'i Island, Kaua'i, and Moloka'i. Members will help remove invasive species, restore native habitat, assist with trail maintenance and erosion control, and work on preservation projects at cultural sites. Their work ensures a brighter future for national parks and federally managed lands, including Kalaupapa National Historical Park and Haleakalā National Park.

Empowering Youth Through Outdoor Experiences

Those who’ve tackled a tough hike or taken part in a meaningful service opportunity understand the personal growth and sense of empowerment that comes with the experience. That’s why OUT There Adventures fosters positive identity development, individual empowerment, and improved quality of life for queer young people through facilitated experiential education activities. The Explore Fund Grant will support outdoor education programs such as day trips and service projects for LGBTQ youth and adults in Olympic National Park and San Juan Island National Historic Site, among other parks and public lands across the country.

Service in the Capital

D.C. locals flock to the city’s largest national park, Rock Creek Park, to run along the park’s paths or hike in this beautiful oasis in the nation’s capital. Yet few remember the hard work of those who ensure the park remains accessible for all! The Rock Creek Conservancy is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting Rock Creek, the park’s namesake 33-mile creek. The Explore Fund Grant will support the expansion of the organization’s Rock Creek Conservation Corps. This summer, its conservation corp program will help protect and revitalize the park while providing transformative experiences to youth, encouraging them to take their place as future leaders in conservation.

Our national parks provide visitors with many powerful experiences. Programs like those made possible through The North Face Explore Fund grants ensure that youth who would otherwise not have such experiences, visit their local public lands, and come away with a whole new appreciation for these resources. These featured groups open doors for more people to experience these special places and to ensure that they remain protected for this and future generations. Have you ever experienced a national park through a similar type of program? Share your own experience in the comments below.

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