27 Jun ELK Urban Rangers Are Ready for the Summer!
Diversifying the audience to which the National Park Service caters has been a prevalent challenge. Raising awareness of these parks and their services to underrepresented groups is an ongoing conversation with many factors to consider. Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), a non-profit organization focused on building leaders through science education and outdoor experiences for undeserved youth ages 5-25, has provided a unique summer initiative for high school which helps not only their professional development, but also the National Park Service’s challenge of bringing people of color to our parks and programs. The ELK Urban Ranger program partners with Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW), the Denver Parks & Recreation (DPR), the Botanical Gardens, and the National Park Service (NPS). After a competitive application and interview process, 11 high school and college students were chosen to become Urban Rangers for the summer of 2016. Each student comes from a underrepresented background such as that of Latino/a, African-American, or Native American descent. As Urban Rangers, these students will be helping with fishing clinics and school programs throughout the summer. This a paid job with training sessions allowing them to truly develop their professional and networking skills. As a part of their Urban Ranger Training, ELK was able to take their group to the Mountain Campus of Colorado State University at Pingree Mountain where they were housed in the conference areas for two nights and three days. A mix of returning and new Urban Rangers allowed for a unique atmosphere where the students could learn from each other. An overview on fishing clinic presentations, work expectations, time sheets, and even a plant introduction course by biologist, Michael Bell from NPS, were all given in addition to group bonding activities, hikes, and meal times. This group really defines themselves as a “family” –ready to help each other on any task and encourage each other through any challenge. In conversation with Tegan Plock, Youth & Volunteer Programs Assistant form NPS, about the purpose of the Urban Rangers and ELK, a student recognized how she is doing activities outdoors that are not always accepted by her African-American peers because it is what, “white people do” and not something that directly resonates in her culture. Even so, she loves being with ELK and believes that she is being a change agent for her community and the lifestyle offered. The love for ELK from the staff members is also apparent in the relationship held with the students. There is full confidence and trust that these students will succeed in their jobs and responsibilities. One of the staff members teared up in realizing how significant the Urban Rangers are to their community. She recognized that for so many of the students coming over the summer for fishing clinics, it will be their only opportunity to actually enjoy an outdoor activity for free and learn from mentors who come from the same background and identity. By the end of the three-day training, the Urban Rangers were pumped and their schedules already jam-packed with job shifts, school programming days, training events, farm stands, and even fun camping trips to the Rocky Mountains, Sand Dunes and the Tetons. The excitement these students carry is tremendous and their effort as youth for further community outreach is admirable. We hope their partnership with NPS continues to support their overall mission and efforts for encouraging children and families of color to explore our parks and outdoors.