Pittsburgh Youth are First to Experience Park Journeys
In August 2012, a group of 10 teenagers from Pittsburgh traveled across the country to experience Yellowstone for the first time. During the course of five days as participants in a new pilot program, they learned about wildlife, geology, park history and conservation. They hiked, talked with rangers about careers, met with famed Yellowstone photographer Tom Murphy, and captured their experience through journaling, drawing and photography.
The teens comprised an inaugural group from Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) -- a nonprofit serving at-risk, urban youth -- participating in a brand-new program, Park Journeys. Park Journeys was developed through an innovative partnership between Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone Park Foundation (YPF), the Yellowstone Association(YA), and Manchester Bidwell (MBC).
“Yellowstone allowed us to design a purposely intense experience which integrated core MBC elements of mentorships and the arts with science, wildlife and wellness,” said Joanna Papada, MBC Vice President for External Relationships. "Each day combined a highly structured itinerary of field exploration, learning, and photography, as well as team-building through preparation and cooking of healthy food."
Funding for the pilot program was provided by the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and private funders. Innovative instruction was provided by Yellowstone Association staff and artist mentors from Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.
Sharing the unique experience with each other and their community back home was an integral part of the program. Each student contributed personal reflections and photos to the Park Journeys blog and at the end of the five days, each had an opportunity to pick one photo or drawing to present to the group. The assignment was to use an image to make the case for protecting and preserving Yellowstone, just as early park advocates would have in the 1870’s.
One participant reflected in the blog: “I never thought I would be in this beautiful place at all during my lifetime. I just feel so happy and excited that I got to do this. ‘For the enjoyment of the people.’ That is the inscription on the Roosevelt Arch. This is my mission. I want others to have their personal experience in Yellowstone.” – M.K.
According to Papada, the presentations all had a common denominator: “Yellowstone now belonged to them. It was not a foreign place and they were not aliens. They are the proprietors.”
Another essential element of the 2012 Park Journeys pilot was to share the experience in the Pittsburgh community. The youth chose photographs to exhibit at MCG’s downtown gallery, the Susan Zubik Welcome Center in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District during the city’s Quarterly Gallery Art Crawl event. More than 600 people visited the gallery and heard the students talk about their Yellowstone imagery. Students were immensely proud of the public display and some even sold their artwork. Parents were deeply appreciative of the opportunity for their children.
Another participant blogged, “I learned so much about myself as a person in ways that I can’t truly explain. For some reason Yellowstone created a deeper connection for me…it brought me closer to the people around me. I learned photography allows people to look directly through the eyes of the other, creating a deeper connection…I am so worn-out -- we used our time here to the absolute fullest." – L.M.
Connecting youth to nature so that they feel invested in stewardship is critical to long-term protection and preservation of places like Yellowstone, and our natural heritage as a whole. All the partners are exceptionally pleased with the results, and are in discussions as to how to develop a sustainable and ongoing program in 2013 and beyond.
“Support for experiential youth education in Yellowstone has long been a priority for the Foundation. This is the kind of model partnership that we hope to continue growing so that Yellowstone has stewards of all ages and backgrounds committed to its protection,” explains YPF president Karen Bates Kress.
The Yellowstone Park Foundation is deeply grateful to YPF Advisory Council member Michael Solot, who was instrumental in bringing the partners together to create this innovative program. The partners look forward to further developing and expanding the program so that more youth can benefit and be inspired by parks like Yellowstone.
Manchester Bidwell is a non-profit, multi-discipline organization founded by Bill Strickland in Pittsburgh in 1968 with the goal of improving the lives of at-risk urban children through empowerment, environment, and experiential learning. The organization serves approximately 3,900 youth each year through classes and workshops in ceramics, photography, digital imaging and design art. Bill Strickland has won The MacArthur Fellowship "Genius" Award as an education reformer for his vision and leadership of Manchester Bidwell, and is in the process of establishing a network of similar facilities within and outside the United States. Learn more at www.manchesterbidwell.org