Welcome to Our Backyard: the 2013 Youth Summit

Hi everyone!

On August 16, SCIP hosted the annual Youth Summit – an end-of-summer celebration with members of various NPS youth programs in the area. All in all, about 150 NPS youth came to spend the day with SCIP at Lowell National Historical Park’s Boardinghouse Park.

everyone at the Youth Summit!

everyone at the Youth Summit!

Lots of different parks and programs were represented! Youth from nine different programs came: Lowell Spindle City Corps, Salem Maritime Future Leaders, Boston Harbor Island Ambassadors, Frederick Law Olmsted Youth Conservation Corps, Groundwork Somerville, New Bedford Whaling Learners to Teachers, National Park Service Preservers, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation Branching Out, and Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation Designing Parks.

To reflect the NPS Call to Action, a set of benchmark goals for the National Park Service to achieve by the 2016 centennial, the theme of the day was “In My Backyard”- this item in the Call to Action (benchmark #4) suggests to “improve urban residents’ awareness of and access to outdoor and cultural experiences close to home by promoting national parks in urban areas”. 

I’ve definitely had the experience multiple times with parks I’ve been at, that local residents will often say to me, “Oh, there’s a national park here? I didn’t know that,” or a local visitor will come into the park for their first time and say, “I’ve lived here for years and had no idea this was here!” Sometimes it surprises people that there are 401 national parks in the United States; in Massachusetts alone, there are 14 national park units. These are unexpected numbers for a relatively small state with a lot of urban areas. But, as youth affiliated with the National Park Service, we are in an excellent position to change that perception, and to make our neighbors in our hometowns more aware of these awesome places that we work at and take care of, and that are at our hands and feet.

The summit was all about sharing our experiences working at these places, and imagining what the future of the National Park Service could be like in our hands. The morning started with members of each youth program presenting their summer work and projects with each other:

And then in teams, we all came up with ten different versions of our ideal national parks, and shared our visions with sidewalk chalk drawings:

Making new friends and drawing with chalk

Making new friends and imagining national parks on the sidewalk

Lunch was accompanied with National Park trivia, and then awards were presented for the Summit contests in essay writing and creative arts and media. Lowell protection ranger (and SCIP intern Missy’s mentor) Traci even helped out by escorting the awards in her park vehicle:

And the afternoon was spent learning from each other with ten workshops, offered by youth, mentors, and SCIP members:

To close the day with celebrating and encouraging further stewardship of the parks in our backyards, SCIP ranger Rubby and I each spoke some words to end with. During the workshop sessions earlier, some youth and I wrote a collaborative poem centered around the idea of our hands and feet: reflecting on what they did over the summer, and what they can do in the future. This is what we came up with, which I read to help close the day:

Hands and Feet

All they do is work.
They sink in the sand,
they discover new parks
and have many plans;
 
They sink in the sand;
as our hands wield rotten wood,
they have many plans
for flourishing new roots;
 
As our hands wield rotten wood,
footprints tattoo soil for a better tomorrow:
for flourishing new roots –
they cleared paths for others to follow;
 
Footprints tattoo soil for a better tomorrow:
they discover new parks,
they clear paths for others to follow –
All they do is work.
 

Rubby then ended the day with some words to keep us excited and motivated:

SCIP ranger Rubby closing out the day

SCIP ranger Rubby closing out the day: “I challenge you to ask, ‘What’s next?’ and to always chase after dreams that challenge you.”

She advised, “We must share all we have learned and put the skills acquired into actions. Should each of us as unique individuals with diverse experiences, talents, and strengths put our brilliant minds together, and decide to make a commitment to improving our communities, no matter how small, imagine how great of an impact we could make.”

With 401 national parks across the country, each of these places brings something special and unique to the table. Some national parks are right in our own backyards, and our summer experiences bring these places even closer to home. Our hands may have done nothing but work this summer, but no matter what they did, they all made an impact in keeping the parks in our backyards alive and special, in keeping our communities alive and special. Lowell was happy to welcome youths from the neighboring national parks into our own backyard, and SCIP looks forward to seeing the great impacts everyone will make in the future! (Even if it is just with our hands and feet.)

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