This program has now concluded. Learn more about our current work in supporting Youth Engagement & Education here.

The National Park Foundation (NPF)’s America’s Best Idea program connected diverse populations of youth to national parks across the United States. Through this innovative, meaningful program, children discovered and explored our national parks and all they have to offer. From first-time camping experiences and ranger-led hikes to learning from elders and digging into our nation’s history, the America’s Best Idea program enabled youth to experience our parks in new, exciting ways.

Inspired by Ken Burns’ film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” which premiered on PBS in September 2009, NPF’s America’s Best Idea program created unique opportunities for American youth to personally connect with our parks, helping to develop lifelong relationships with our parks and emphasizing the importance of preserving them for future enjoyment. The program was supported by L.L.Bean, DISNEY, Unilever, the Anschutz Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation, and other donors to the National Park Foundation.

Program Highlights

Girls with NPS Ranger Hat

Connecting Native American Youth with Yosemite

Through a series of day trips and a multi-night camping trip, Native American youth explored the natural world, how to respect our public lands, and identify themselves as stewards of the earth. The youth were led by a world-renowned climber and a Tribal Elder from the Southern Sierra Miwok Nation and enjoyed walks to Cascade Falls, picnics in El Cap Meadow, and camping above 8,600 feet.

Ranger reading to group of kids

Timpanogos Kids in Nature Group

Through a six-agency collaboration, 600 elementary school students from Utah Country participated in a series of outdoor classroom activities. Students visited Timpanogos Cave National Monument, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah State Parks, Sundance Nature Preserve, Hutchings Museum, and Thanksgiving Point Discovery Gardens and participated in lessons exploring groundwater movement, wetland resources, mountain ecology, and aquatic species.

Campground in Alaskan wilderness

Camping in Kobuk Valley

Inupiat Eskimo students explored the wilderness of the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes at Kobuk Valley National Park through a science camp. High school students learned out to arrange a trip and enjoy a 4-day camping experience, as well as participated in 10 science activities within the designated wilderness area. 

Ranger Johnson during a demonstration in Yosemite National Park

A Park for All People

In a film created for this project, Yosemite National Park ranger Shelton Johnson shared the story of the Buffalo Soldiers who patrolled the parks of the High Sierra, effectively the first park rangers. The film was produced in partnership with WETA and Florentine Films with generous support from the Haas, Jr. Fund. 

Teens in a wooded area

Wilson’s Creek Explorer Summer Quest

Designed to immerse local youth in the significance of the national park in their backyard, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield hosted a summer camp – in partnership with the Republic, Missouri Parks and Recreation Program – to introduce youth to family life in the 1860s, when the battle of Wilson’s Creek took place, as well as multiple perspectives of the battle’s history, the life of soldiers, nature and critical environmental issues, careers with the National Park Service, and more.

The White House lit up at night

War of 1812 Symposium

A five-day symposium used lectures, site visits to President’s Park – The White House, and various internet-based tools to introduce students and teachers to the War of 1812 and its lasting impacts on our history. The park also coordinated with a Belgian non-profit organization to pair the participating classrooms in the U.S. with Belgian schools to have students develop joining media products related to the war. 

Kids at Mt. Rainier visitor center

Base to Basecamp at Mount Rainier

Designed to provide teenagers from active-duty military families and youth from Seattle with an intensive outdoor experience at Mount Rainier National Park, project participants completed a trail maintenance project that included educational, recreational, and career planning components.

Girls studying plants in Rocky Mountain National Park

Exploring the Rocky Mountains

Introducing nearly 70 youth from low-income families to the park, this project provided free outings that combined recreation and education in mountain safety and ecology to participants. Students participated in ranger-led hikes, Leave No Trace demonstrations, and lessons in aquatic ecology, building a lasting bond with our national parks.

Virgin Islands Park

Traditions on the Virgin Islands

This project, “Passing the Torch – Student Ambassadors of Caribbean Culture,” was designed to help elders pass on traditional knowledge about plants and trees to younger generations. Elders held craft classes once a week for several months, and students then participated in cultural demonstrations at Virgin Islands National Park’s Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins and Cinnamon Bay campground.

Kids taking part in an NPF program

Exploring America’s First National Park

40 youth and ten youth leaders spent a week working on maintenance and resource projects at Yellowstone National Park. Participants learned about the NPS mission and about the cultural and natural resources in the park as part of the 2014 Yellowstone / Groundwork USA Urban Youth Engagement Project, participating in leadership exercises, and hiking and recreating in America’s first national park.

Service volunteer restoring a trail

HomeStretch Internship Program

NPF funded Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s HomeStretch internship program, enabling six high school students to spend four weeks working and learning in the park. The teens, all first-time visitors to the park, spent four days a week working on trail maintenance, improving drainage, clearing debris, and more, and also enjoyed educational activities including field trips to other national park sites.

Girl taking part in a park activity

Reality TV in Everglades

Through an America’s Best Idea Grant, in partnership with Univision and South Florida National Parks Trust, Everglades National Park produced a 2010 reality TV special that captured a local Spanish speaking family’s first visit to the park. Cameras followed the family as they enjoyed a weekend of facilitated activities, including hiking, camping, and sloughing.

Girl studying finds from a dig

Junior Archaeology Camp

A five-day Junior Archaeologist camp, co-sponsored with the Haas Fund, included a day exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park and a digital exploration of collections at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. Youth learned about archeology through hands-on activities and fieldwork done alongside archeologists. 

The Three Tetons are reflected in a nearby lake, creating a stunning mirror image

Engaging Youth in Grand Tetons

An America’s Best Idea Grant helped fund two opportunities in Grand Teton National Park: the Young Stewards & Leaders program, which enabled high school students to enjoy three overnight retreats to the park, featuring conservation-focused speakers, and the Children in Nature Multicultural Engagement Program, in which high school students mentored middle school students in park activities for two weeks.

Elementary schools students at the Lincoln Memorial

Field Trips to the National Mall

National Mall and Memorial Parks partnered with two after-school clubs to introduce students to the national parks, the National Mall, and the life and work of Franklin D. Roosevelt. A partnership with Kid Power, the project led to a greater awareness of the national park sites within D.C. and increased knowledge of historical content.