National parks are great vacation destinations…and terrific spots to teach kids about their country; the places where history happened and ecosystems still thrive. At North Cascades National Park in Washington State more than 14,000 students have taken part in a three-day exploration of scientific investigation, geology, and history, learning why the mountains are important to our plants and animals, our rivers and sea, and our communities and cultures. The program, a partnership with the North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School draws rave reviews. As one fifth-grader put it, “I never knew I lived in such a cool place!” High school students learn new skills in the North Cascades Wild program, a 12-day backcountry experience where they learn how to paddle a canoe, pitch a tent, and lead their peers in service learning projects. In summer 2009, the park, institute, and the National Park Foundation piloted a new program, bringing 19 kids in from five cities across the country selected on their potential to be leaders in their communities. For one month, they studied climate change with National Park Service scientists, park rangers, and institute instructors and then headed home, determined to make a difference.
Today, the National Park Service is inspiring the next generation of scientists, thinkers, conservationists, and park lovers – making America’s Best Idea even better.