Pathways for Youth

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Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele,


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At North Cascades National Park Service Complex, we are developing the next generation of public land stewards and NPS employees. By deliberately connecting existing programs and partnerships, North Cascades is creating a continuum of meaningful park-based experiences, a pathway to stewardship.

With over 400 units in urban and natural areas across the country, the NPS is well-positioned to experiment with different models of youth engagement. Pathways for Youth is not a formal program nor a revolutionary approach. Instead, it is an agreement and shared commitment between park supervisors, employees, hiring officials, and partner organizations. It is a unified effort to connect youth with their public lands and shared heritage.

What is a Pathway?
A pathway is a sequence of experiences, each building on the last and offering deeper connection to one’s national parks. Though each step is unique, they can be organized into three broad categories:

1) Educational programs introduce students (elementary through high school) to national parks through fun, curriculum-based approaches. In many instances, this is the youth’s first exposure to nature and outdoor recreation.

2) Internships offer real-world work experience and are often supplemented by a stipend and/or school credit. Interns are high school or college students and work for an entire summer season. They gain employment skills and experiences that then make them qualified for future NPS jobs.

3) Employment at a national park is available through seasonal and permanent positions (10,650 and 1,000, respectively, in 2010). In these paid positions, students have a higher level of engagement and responsibility in fulfilling park operations.

Pathways are encouraged through evidence that repeat experiences in parks create a sense of stewardship. There is no one “right” route or time line for traveling a pathway.

At its essence, Pathways for Youth aims to create a constituency of engaged citizens, no matter their profession. If a student spends two weeks canoeing at North Cascades, returns the following summer as a GS-3 campground ranger, and then goes on to become a business owner, teacher, or parent later in life—reflecting fondly on that national park experience and sharing that sense of stewardship with others, then Pathways for Youth will be a success.

Last updated: November 2, 2022

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