At a campsite on Lake Kabetogama amongst the bushes of wild blueberries, tiptoeing around the knots of toads and braving the relentless buzzing of mosquitoes, the 2018 National Park Teen Ambassadors gather around the campfire to rest and reflect on their trip to Voyageurs National Park. All agree that the park offered a still, peaceful serenity that is hard to come by in more urban areas. The orange glow from the fire illuminates their faces showing signs of being immersed in the wilderness for five days - unkempt hair, dirt in unexpected places, tired but happy eyes. They are looking forward to a shower, but also cannot wait to share their experience with friends and family back home.
In its sixth year, the National Park Teen Ambassador Program continued its mission to connect youth from throughout the state of Minnesota to the outdoors and environmental careers. Participants paddled and camped in Voyageurs National Park and explored the Mississippi River and Recreation Area. This years’ Teen Ambassador cohort all heralded from the Twin Cities area, and, for most, this was their first time in a national park! During their 5 day, four night stay at Voyageurs, the youth met with park staff, helped install wildlife cameras in the woods with park researchers, and explored the historical sites on Lake Kabetogama.
A couple weeks after returning home, the Teen Ambassadors met up again for a weekend excursion at Fort Snelling. This trip gave them the opportunity to explore a park right in their backyard. Along with hiking around Pike Island and paddling on Lake Snelling, the Teen Ambassadors participated in a citizen science activity by testing the water quality of the Mississippi River.
The youth represented eight different high schools, with ages ranging from 15 to 18 years old. Many were first generation students, all came from varying backgrounds, and they bonded together over a mutual interest in the environment.
Mary, a Teen Ambassador from Champlin Park said, “This trip gave me the opportunity to meet some people who are interested in nature like me. I really enjoyed canoeing with everyone and comparing Voyageurs National Park to the Mississippi River and Recreation Area, because they are both so different but really cool.”
Her fellow Ambassador, Tony from Harding High School, agreed, “The highlight of my time in [Voyageurs National Park and] the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is sharing a new experience with kids my age because this generation is mostly about technology and not learning about wildlife and how to preserve it.”
It is this shared experience that Tony mentions that makes the National Park Teen Ambassador program so special. Before the trip, none of the Teen Ambassadors knew one another. As they discovered the beauty, history and importance of preserving national parks, and the experienced trials and tribulations of being out in the wilderness for 5 days together, a lasting bond was formed. Up next, the Teen Ambassadors will share their experience with the friends, families, and communities, serving as the next generation of champions for national parks.
Thank you to our program partners and sponsors: Wilderness Inquiry, The National Park Service, The National Park Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, The Fredrikson & Byron Foundation, The Edina Morningside Rotary, Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation, Scott and Di Photography and AmeriCorps VISTA.