While many teens spend their summers at temporary, less-than-memorable jobs to earn spending money, Kyle Thomas spent his tramping through Grand Teton National Park.
But he wasn’t just hanging out. Kyle, a freshman at the University of Wyoming, participated in Grand Teton National Park Foundation’s Youth Conservation Program. With financial support from Wells Fargo, the program pays 16- to 19-year-olds to work on the park’s 300–400 miles of trails — improving access, protecting animal habitats, preserving historical sites, and learning about overall park management.
“Some of the original trails at the park have been around a very long time, and because of our work on them, I’ll be able to hike these same trails when I’m 60 years old,” Kyle says.
He says his fondest memory during the program came one day when the group had reached its destination after a seven-mile hike.
“We were high in the mountains that encircled a lake,” Kyle says. “When we got to the top, our bosses said we could take a break and go swimming. This was one of our last hikes, and it was the most memorable. The adventure of the hike and the fun of swimming in this beautiful lake were just amazing.”
Kyle says he hopes his relationship with the park is not over: He has applied for a job as a leader for the youth program this summer, and he is working toward a criminal justice degree so he can be a law enforcement ranger for a park. He says: “This has set the course for what I want to do with my life.”
The Youth Conservation Program is one of three programs Grand Teton National Park Foundation supports — all designed to help the National Park Service connect with young visitors, says Kim Mills, director of communications and corporate relations for the foundation.
“We want young people to care about our national parks,” Kim says, “and these programs help us remain relevant. The programs get students outside and working in the park. And if you’ve put your sweat into it, you’re going to feel a stronger connection to it.”
The programs also provide a handy way for the park to get a lot of work done, especially in time for the National Park Service’s centennial on Aug. 25, 2016, Kim says.
“There are hundreds of miles of trails at our park, many of which were built in the 1930s,” Kim says. “With federal budgets stagnant or shrinking, national parks have to be creative to maintain them. At the same time, visitation is increasing at a rapid rate. We had 4.4 million visitors at Grand Teton in 2015 and are expecting possibly 5 million in 2016.”
Wells Fargo support
In 2015, Grand Teton National Park Foundation received grants totaling $100,000 from Wells Fargo — including $75,000 from the 2015 Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grant program, which was designated for restoring trails, bridges, and a visitor complex at Jenny Lake, Grand Teton’s most popular destination.
Kim says, “Wells Fargo is directly reaching the students who will one day be making decisions about our public land. This money goes a long way. It allows teens to work for 10 weeks on trails many visitors hike.”
Ashley Grosh, business initiatives consultant for Wells Fargo’s Environmental Affairs, concludes, “Our parks are national treasures, and we are proud to support the work that will maintain them for years to come.”