Inspiring the Next Generation of National Park Stewards
Last year, in celebration of the National Park Service Centennial, OARS launched a powerful partnership with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to open up the great outdoors for kids around the country and inspire the next generation of park stewards. As we near the centennial on August 25th of this year, our work is just getting started.
This is about so much more than a celebration; it is an opportunity for us to lay the foundation for the next 100 years of our national parks—and leave a legacy for our kids and grandkids.
As part of this unique partnership, OARS has donated five guided multi-day trips in the last 12 months to underserved youth in communities across the country, including trips in Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Canyonlands National Parks.
As one educator on a recent rafting trip through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park remarked, “It’s the way learning should be—hands on, dirty, filled with fun and fear and friendship under the blue sky and starry nights. Nothing feeling forced, everything just flowing like the river through ten thousand twists and turns. A lesson learned at every bend.”
For many of these kids, this is their first wilderness experience—and we hope it is the beginning of a lifetime love of the outdoors. But, this isn’t just about opening the doors to nature, it’s about sparking a connection to our natural heritage and culture, it’s about building community—and empowering America’s future leaders.
Donna Richardson, Chief of Interpretation and Resource Education for Grand Canyon National Park, joined a group of Hualapai and Hopi students on a 4-day Grand Canyon river trip and said, “It was a very powerful and fulfilling experience for them. It was the first time for each of the participants to be on the river and experience the Canyon from the river perspective. Most importantly, it allowed native youth to experience the canyon in their own personal ways. It was one small step in providing them the opportunity to connect to the Grand Canyon as Native Americans, as well as our next generation to care for these special places.”
When I first joined OARS in 2002, it wasn’t exactly clear to me what I was getting myself into, but when our founder, George Wendt, asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I told him I wanted to make a difference. And to George, that meant one thing: get as many people as possible—especially kids—out on the river.
George launched OARS in 1969 after he realized that many of America’s special wild places were under threat. He made it his life’s purpose to share, fight for, and preserve public lands and wild rivers for future generations. Always true to his word, no other outfitter helped connect more people to rivers and wild places than George.
On July 9, 2016, George passed away. He was an inspiration of a man and a true conservationist. George often said, “We save what we love and we love what we know.” It’s up to all of us to make sure that our kids and grandkids get to know wild places, wild rivers and a sense of adventure—and that starts in our national parks.
Photos: Stephanie Kuhar