Linking Latinos to the National Park Service

By Jossie Flor Sapunar on 08/02/2013 @ 05:17 PM

A Day Trip to Lake Mead for LULAC Youth

By: Jessica Gonzalez, Student Conservation Association intern, NPS

My favorite part about working as a Student Conservation Association intern with National Park Service is introducing young people to a part of our country they never knew. In mid-June, when the Department of the Interior, NPS, and other DOI bureaus partnered with LULAC for an event to connect Latino youth to nature, I had a chance to help them experience America's Great Outdoors.

It was a sweltering Tuesday in June, but the group of 50 Latino youth boarding the raft at the base of Hoover Dam was undaunted by the heat and thrilled for this new adventure. They were among 260 high-school and college students who fundraised the entire year to pay for their trip to the LULAC and the University of Las Vegas' annual youth leadership development conference. Other students visited Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Hoover Dam, and Red Rock Canyon as part of the NPS and DOI outreach to Latino youth.

Among the many themes for the day were outdoor experiences that took many forms. Some of the students were from the Las Vegas area and had never been so close to wildlife. This was the first visit to a national park for most of the students, and very few of them knew what national parks were. This unforgettable trip to Lake Mead National Recreation Area however changed all of that.

Starting at the base of Hoover Dam, we rafted five miles down the Colorado River through the Black Canyon. Our guide for the day was Megan Urban, Project Adventure program manager at Lake Mead. Along the way she and Ranger Sky McClain took the students back in time with stories of how and when the canyon was formed. They also pointed to the many varieties of wildlife scattered along the cliffs. There were lizards and a turkey vulture, but the big attraction of the day was seeing the big horned sheep that dotted the landscape. The first grouping we saw was a mother and her lamb, later we spotted a herd of more than a dozen sheep. As if on cue, as McClain spoke about how rams butt heads in competition, the sheep gave us a rare and very loud demonstration.

For lunch we pulled onto one of the beaches along the Colorado River and found shade among the trees. While swimming in 50°F water wasn't in the cards for most of the students, a few brave souls dipped their feet in for a few minutes. During the rest of the trip, McClain and Urban pointed to the historic structures where early dam workers lived and worked in the 1930s. It was amazing to see these places still standing, including the planked walkways precariously perched at the edges of the cliffs that the workers used to travel back and forth.

Another goal was to encourage the students to participate in their federally managed public lands in multiple ways. A park doesn't always need someone who knows how to kayak or climb a mountain; they learned that the NPS also has jobs for accountants, engineers and biologists. The variety of career fields within the NPS is vast, and an excellent way to discover that passion for public service is to intern through SCA. We let the students know the internship opportunities through SCA are equally as vast and serve as an excellent introduction to many federal agencies.

The outdoors offers something for everyone. I love encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to find ways to experience the outdoors in ways that are comfortable to them. Our hope is that the youth we introduced to Lake Mead will go on to experience America’s Great Outdoors through volunteering, visiting, and maybe working in our national parks someday.

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