Student Ambassador Tigran Attends the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit

Charting a Path to Success, the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit

This Fall, my friend Billy from the National Park Trust contacted me and told me about the Northwest Youth Leadership Conference in Seattle, WA. I trusted that Billy knew what the summit was all about, so I quickly signed up. The free, two-day conference was for 150 young adults between the ages of 14 and 26. The first day was dedicated to field trips in the local area, and the second day was the actual summit.

My trip did not start as smoothly as I had hoped due to many flight delays. It was 2:30 in the morning when my Dad and I finally got to Seattle, on the first day of the summit. After getting a few hours of sleep, I was ready to begin the field trips!

The first field trip of the Summit was to a ropes course at Camp Long, which is where the first American to climb Mt. Everest, Jim Whittaker, learned to climb. I had no idea that Mr. Whittaker had

Tigran on the high ropes course

trained there, which was really exciting.

The original plan was to do the low ropes course, which did not require any safety ropes. However, because our group was so small, our group leader decided to put us on the forty-foot tall high ropes course instead. Buddy Bison and I looked at each other nervously; we hadn’t planned to go on a giant course like that. Yet, we put on our helmets and harnesses and hiked over to the course.

We started by practicing clipping into the safety wires that would hold us up. After that, we walked on a long wire out to all of the challenges. A great feature of the course was how it was set up. It was shaped like a spider web, allowing you to choose which challenges you wanted to do. There was everything from zip lines to moving wooden boards. This ended up being extremely fun, and Buddy and I enjoyed every second of our time there.

After our trip to Camp Long my family and I went on an exciting field trip to Klondike National Historical Park on our own. This park preserves the history of the 1897 Gold Rush in the Yukon province of Canada. We started at the Visitor Center, which had great interpretive displays. There were exhibits on the equipment that prospectors used, the routes “stampeders” took, and even some exhibits on the significant figures that participated in the gold rush. The dedication people needed to succeed back then was amazing; they traveled through freezing snow, bad weather, and tall mountains.

After taking a quick look at some of the exhibits, we were introduced to Ranger Kelsey gave us a tour of the park with Ranger Jane. We were completely surprised to learn that our tour group was just Buddy Bison, my Dad and me! Ranger Kelsey gave us a presentation on the effects of the Klondike Gold Rush in the United States as a whole, and Seattle in particular. In her opinion, there are four things that make a national park; history, culture, nature, and people. On the tour, each stop represented one of these things. It is surprising how much there is to see there–you would never guess that many of the buildings are important to the history of Seattle! Ranger Kelsey’s presentation was amazing, and pointed out many incredible things that we would never have spotted ourselves. You may be wondering, why does Seattle have a national park dedicated to a Canadian gold rush, for the answer, you will have to visit!After the tour was over, we went back to the visitor center, where we were introduced to Superintendent Charles Beall, who was also at the summit the next day. I gave Ranger Kelsey her own Buddy Bison and she squealed with delight. We also met Ranger Kayla, who would be my group leader at the summit.

Tigran at Klondike Gold Rush NHS

Buddy and I had no idea what to expect from the summit, but we were very excited. The summit was held at an incredible rock climbing and mountaineering center called The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center. There are incredible artificial indoor and outdoor climbing walls and even some real basalt rock to practice climbing on. Just before the summit began, Buddy and I checked in and my dad started to explore the area. There, we met up with Ranger Kayla again, who like us was really excited.

Each summit group was named after a nearby mountain peak. My group was after Shuksan. I think this name represents the journey we will have to take to take to become a ranger; they both require training, perseverance and dedication. The summit began with a huge welcome ceremony, with all the participants in a large hall. Then, we all were able to choose a breakout session,

Tigran, Ranger Kayla, and Buddy Bison at the Youth Leadership Summit

which were hour-long classes about a certain topic. There was everything from career planning to team challenge courses. Everyone chose three breakout sessions. I chose a session about becoming a ranger, a session on the effects of climate change in Mount Rainier National Park, and climbing on a huge rock-climbing wall.

After the three breakout sessions, it was time for one of the main attractions of the summit, the opportunity fair. This was an event for us to meet with a huge number of outdoor related organizations. Several of these groups offered internships and other opportunities for young people who want to pursue a career in the parks. There were many different national parks represented, including Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Mount Rainier National Park and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. There were also Forest Service Rangers but we didn’t get to see Smokey Bear on this visit. Many local and national non-profit volunteer groups were there as well, offering a wide variety of different opportunities.

The final activities were large group discussions about different topics; Buddy and I chose to participate in a discussion about how to connect people who have never experienced the outdoors with park related opportunities. When the summit ended Buddy and I said goodbye to Ranger Kayla and our other new friends.

The Northwest Youth Leadership Summit was a great experience, and addressed one of the biggest challenges for the parks; getting the next generation of park enthusiasts involved in creating the next generation of park stewards. It is important to engage the next generation, whose responsibility it will be to take care of our parks in the future. Events like the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit give an opportunity to youth to get involved and chart a career path in the parks. It was great to meet so many amazing people who are working to protect our parks, and to meet other like-minded young adults interested in working in our public lands.

I think happiness and success comes from following your passion. In the parks, there are almost endless opportunities to pursue your passions, either as a volunteer or as a career. Buddy Bison and I will be looking for other Youth Leadership Summits and we hope to see you there!

The Search for Moose in Rocky Mountain National Park

My parents, Buddy Bison, and I have always wanted to see a moose. We would search every place, in every park, that had them, but we never saw them. That is, until this summer.

At the beginning of the summer we made plans to visit Colorado and Utah to check out their National Parks. I asked a few people where I could find moose, and they all said Rocky Mountain National Park. Buddy and I couldn’t wait to finally see our moose. When we got to the Park, we were greeted by our friends @naturetechfamily. They told us that the west side of the park was the best place to find moose.

@NatureTechFam and the Nahabedians in Rocky Mountain National Park

The next day, we began our journey by heading over the mountains. On the way, we found one creature that we hadn’t expected, the yellow-bellied marmot. The marmot is an interesting creature because it will just lie down in the middle of the road and wait until a car is right next to it before it leisurely moves off the road.

A yellow bellied marmot in Rocky Mountain National Park

Later in the day, we finally got to the other side of the mountain and took a look at the huge meadows—perfect moose country.

We quickly made our way to the visitor center to ask if any of the rangers had seen a moose. As soon as we got there, an excited visitor walked in and told us that there was a moose right along the trail outside the visitor center. We immediately set out to see if the moose was still there. After walking down the trail a bit, I saw what looked like a big patch of tall grass. I looked closer at it and realized that it was the moose resting on the ground! The moose stood up and started eating the leaves of a bush and surrounding trees and then walked a little bit closer to us. We noticed this and started to slowly back away, we wanted to make sure to stay a safe distance. The moose then decided to start eating the bush next to the trail we were on.  We had time to watch and enjoy this amazing animal and took many pictures. On our hike back, we all had huge smiles, we had finally finished our quest to find a moose.

A moose in Rocky Mountain National Park

Empowering Young Park Stewards at Cabrillo National Monument

This year for Kids to Parks Day the National Park Trust invited Buddy Bison and me to an interview with Whitney Southwick at NBC7 San Diego. We were there to talk about Kids to Parks Day at Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego, CA).

A few days before the interview, I was not sure what Cabrillo National Monument had planned for Kids to Parks Day, so I contacted my friend, Ranger Alex. I met Ranger Alex when I was volunteering at Channel Islands National Park—she is a scuba diver, scientist, and she loves working with kids. She said that Cabrillo National Monument didn’t have much planned for Kids to

Student Ambassador Tigran (center) and family getting ready for Kids to Parks Day with Ranger Alex (far left).

Parks Day, but she would like to help set up some fun activities. I was very pleasantly surprised about how enthusiastic and excited she was to participate in Kids to Parks Day. In just a few days, she had managed to set up a special booth with science games, junior ranger booklets, and other fun activities.

The day after the interview was Kids to Parks Day, and Buddy Bison, my cousins, and I rushed over to Cabrillo National Monument where we met up with Ranger Alex. She showed us around and let us run the science booth for the day. This Kids to Parks Day was one of the busiest I have ever been to. We were able to talk to a lot of people about the park. At the end of the day, we met with Ranger Alex and I found out that she does other very amazing activities at the park.

Ranger Alex has helped set up some special summer camps like the EcoLogik Project.  The EcoLogik program is a hands-on science camp that connects young ladies to nature and technology. This program is offered free of charge to increase access and promote inclusion for girls from underrepresented backgrounds pursuing scientific fields.  A few weeks later, Ranger Alex invited

EcoLogik participates Ophelia and Clara in action.

me to Cabrillo to talk to some of the kids in the Ecologik camp. When I got there, I found that they had set up an entire event to talk about what they did. The great thing about this camp is that the kids don’t just learn about science and nature; they get involved in REAL science that park rangers do everyday! Even better, the camp is free to enter and it tries to reach out to under-served communities. I was very impressed with all of the knowledge that the kids gained over two weeks of the Ecologik camp. They learned everything from animal telemetry to aquatic animal identification. This camp shows what the next generation of park rangers and visitors might look like. Ecologik gives these kids the tools for success.  

Later that same day I interviewed Ranger Alex about the Program.

  1. What is your name? – Alexandria Warneke
  2. What is your job in the NPS? – Science Program Coordinator and Marine Biologist
  3. What park do you work at? – Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, CA
  4. What is your favorite part of your job? – I enjoy inspiring others to see the park in a new way and connect them to something they never thought about, or a different part of nature, to really get that “WOW” factor of why they would want to come back and preserve and protect their National Park.
  5. Why is it important to get kids outdoors and involved in activities? – I am really impacted by the idea of ‘legacy’- that something is so incredible, powerful and/or beautiful that people cared enough about it that they wanted to protect it so that others could see too. I think getting kids outdoors connects them to this idea, to their legacy. My job is to make sure that they too are inspired enough to care. 
  6. I have heard that you have set up some special summer camps and activities, would you describe a few? – My team and I are constantly coming up with new and fun activities, but most recently we have just hosted our second year of our summer camp – The EcoLogik Project. This is a two week summer camp for young ladies in science and it’s purpose is to connect them to nature through the lens of technology. In collaboration with our partners, we teach these students how to ask ecological questions within the context of the park and solve environmental problems using the innovative and game changing technology accessible at our fingertips. It is through this framework that we are providing them the tools to be the next generation of park stewards. 
  7. Why are these activities important? – So all the activities we do in the EcoLogik Camp are the actual ways we collect data in the park as scientists, so we don’t water it down at all. We don’t change it. We give them the same tools we are using because kids are fully capable of understanding as long as you make it relatable and provide them a reason to care. These girls are learning the same methods we have used to collect data for the last 30 years in the tidepools. They are learning how to track snakes in the Park using telemetry and why that matters and what does the data mean. So often in schools kids learn how to read graphs, and how to put data on a chart, but getting that context of what that data really means ecologically, what does it mean for the earth, what does it mean for the National Parks is what makes this camp a little bit different.
  8. What materials did you create to for the programs? – We focus on creating fully science integrated materials. We believe that students of all ages are more than capable to understand how we collect data and make inferences into what that data means. We strive to create materials that make science relatable. 
  9. How long have you been doing these activities for? I have been with the Park Service for four years. Before that I was a research scientist with San Diego State University and science communication and education consultant. 
  10. What are the benefits of these programs? National Parks are all about creating connections, people want to feel connected to the resources, to the stories, to the science. Through our program we strive to connect to people where they are- whether that be in the park or in the community. 
  11. Do you think other parks should have similar activities in their local area? – I am constantly inspired by the other units in the National Park Service. I have never met more passionate, hardworking people. I think each park finds it’s own way to connect with their community best. 
  12. What advice would you give to another ranger if they want to set up similar activities? Keep Calm and Adapt On. You must often champion your own projects and sometimes this can be intimidating and there can be many hurdles, but keep your head up, be adaptable, and push forward. You will succeed.

Buddy Bison Student Ambassador Participates in The Parks and Tech Challenge

I love volunteering and trying to find ways I can help the National Park Service (NPS). One of the biggest problems facing the national parks is deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance is like when all the floorboards in your house need to be fixed but you only have enough money to do one room. And while you try to earn more money for the floors, other things start breaking down like your bathrooms or your stove, and the whole time you are trying not to fall into the basement! In the NPS, is it is such a big problem that over 11.3 billion dollars worth of repairs have been delayed, from small things like their bathrooms to even the Statue of Liberty, which has over 160 million dollars in needed repairs.  Because of this problem park rangers, visitors, and other park enthusiasts have come together to find solutions to this problem.

Buddy Bison and I joined the Parks and Tech Challenge at Golden Gate National Recreation Area with my family for two days this February. It was really inspiring to see so many people working to find ways to help our parks. The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Civic Makers sponsored the event I was so happy to see how incredibly dedicated they are to this cause.

I chose to participate in the “Improving the Visitor Experience” category and started a group that became “One Park” (pictured right). My parents started another group, “Team VIP.” My group was designing an application for smartphones that would be a one-stop shop for everything parks related. This would include: digital junior ranger programs, maps, park information, campground reservations, plant and animal identification, and ways to report park problems to park staff. This system would save the parks money by reducing printing costs and park waste, and create better visitor experiences without increasing park staff. I had a great group and made many new friends.

I was also very happy to see two people I really admire come into the room when it was time for judging, Grace Lee with the National Park Trust and former National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis (pictured above). We were all very excited to see each other. It was an honor to be selected by my group to be one of the presenters. We did not win the challenge, but I think we will all be winners because we came up with many great ideas for Pew Charitable Trusts to take to the Department of the Interior.

 

Read more about the Parks and Tech Challenge on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ blog article, “The Kid Who Cares About Fixing Our National Parks.”

A Washington, D.C. Adventure with Buddy Bison

Buddy Bison and I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. for an incredible adventure. We started by meeting with the National Park Trust and  Junior Ranger Bryan and his family. Our next stop was to an amazing park that all visitors to Washington, D.C. should visit, Rock Creek Park. While we were there, Bryan and I sat down for a really interesting interview with Superintendent Julia Washburn:

1. What is your name?

​Julia Washburn

2. What is your job in the NPS?

​Rock Creek Park Superintendent

3. Rock Creek Park was the third national park and was created in 1890, what makes Rock Creek Park unique?

​Rock Creek Park manages 3,000 acres of green space in Washington, D.C. including a 1,700 acre Deciduous Forest ​in the heart of the city.  I like to think of the park as a microcosm of the National Park Service, we have wonderful natural resources as well as numerous cultural sites including Fort Stevens, a Civil War Battlefield.

4. What is your favorite animal in the park?

I love the foxes, but I think I have to pick the coyotes as my favorite because I think it is so unique to have coyotes in the middle of a city!​

5. We have heard a lot about deferred maintenance, what challenges does Rock Creek Park face?

Rock Creek Park has $52 million dollars of deferred maintenance needs.  Really the infrastructure of the Park Service is in great need of repair and rehabilitation.  We are very grateful to have the money now to reconstruct Beach Drive, the most scenic road in the park and an important commuter route for D.C.​

6. You were the Associate Director of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers at the National Park Service, what can you tell us about the future of the Junior Ranger Program?

I think the Junior Ranger program is strong and will continue long into the future.  It is a wonderful program for kids and families and very important to the public.  I was a Junior Ranger here at Rock Creek Park when I was 7 years old.​

7. What were some of your favorite ranger stations before you became Superintendent?

Rock Creek Park is my favorite park and always has been, but I really love Crater Lake as well.  I think it is such a beautiful and magical place.  I also love the red rocks of Arches and Canyonlands out in Utah.​

8. How many years does it take to become a Superintendent?

That all depends.  It took me 27 years, but I know some superintendents that only took about 10 years to rise to the park manager level.  It just depends on what path your career takes you.​

9. What do you hope to accomplish as Superintendent of RCP?

​ I have four priorities as Superintendent: 1.  Stewardship–this park has thrived for 128 years and I want it to be healthy and strong on my watch; 2. Access–all people deserve easy access to this park and should feel welcome here, I want to make sure we have great transportation options to the park, outreach programs, and that we create a welcoming environment here for everyone; 3.  Community Engagement–Rock Creek Park is part of the greater Washington, D.C. community and I want to make sure we are good neighbors, are responsive to the public, and actively engaged in the community; 4. Employee Engagement–Everyone who works here deserves to feel great at work and be happy to be a civil servant, I want to make sure that management at the park is responsive to employees and that we create a positive work environment for all.

10. In your opinion, what is the ideal National Park Service? What things could the NPS do to improve?

The easy answer is we need more money to do our job properly. We are not funded as well as we should be in order to take care of these places the way they need to be taken care of. I think the Park Service could do a lot more to support its employees and create a better environment for our employees. For example, if you want to be a superintendent, it should be easy for you to know how to go through the process to become one. People should feel like the park service really supports them and that we are creating a healthy environment for people to work in, a better culture for the organization.

11. What can visitors do help the national parks?

Visitors can do a lot. First of all, people impact the parks and there are things you can do back home to care for the environment. One of the most important things you can do is live a sustainable life and to not impact the environment as much as we have been as a population. By just living your life in a way that you’re recycling, that you’re planting native gardens, pollinator gardens that you’re making sure that you’re taking care of your storm water that runs off your roof and your driveway. How is that storm water managed? All of those things that help you live a sustainable life. That’s a really important thing you can do to help your national parks. You can also volunteer. We really need volunteers, as you know we have a lot of volunteers in the park service. We can’t run the park service without volunteers. You can give money to a friends organization or the National Park Trust or the National Park Foundation. You can be part of an organization that advocates on behalf of the park service. You can join a friends group and come and do volunteer work with the friends group or help out in the community to promote the parks. There are many ways private citizens can help the Park Service.

 

We had several other really great national park visits including: Ford’s Theatre NHS, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality NM, the Washington Monument for the Cherry Blossom Festival, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, Frederick

Douglas NHS and then I volunteered at the Ellipse in President’s Park with the National Park Trust and Buddy Bison for the White House Easter Egg Roll.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to volunteer with the National Park Trust and fellow Buddy Bison Ambassador Bry at the White House Easter Egg Roll. It was so great to see the kids’ reactions to Buddy Bison while they were standing in line and it was very nice of Superintendent John Stanwich to take us on to the South Lawn. I hope that because of National Park Trust’s efforts, more kids will be able to experience our national parks.

As I stood in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, I reflected on my own dream, that one day every child will visit our national parks.