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Grand Canyon National Park Launches New Youth Program with New Partners

Posted: 4/2/2009

Grand Canyon, Ariz. - Grand Canyon National Park and the Morris K. Udall Foundation (Udall Foundation), an independent federal agency based in Tucson, Arizona, recently formalized their partnership when they signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2009. The two organizations have collaborated since 1999 through a program known as Parks in Focus, which exposes middle school children to the natural environment through photography while on educational trips to national parks and other public lands. With their new partnership the two organizations hope to increase collaboration and expand the educational program opportunities at Grand Canyon National Park to reach more youth from Arizona.

Under their new partnership, Grand Canyon National Park and the Morris K. Udall Foundation applied for and were awarded a grant through the 2009 America's Best Idea Program. The grant will allow them to jump-start the planned expansion of the Parks in Focus program. The America's Best Idea Program was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation through the generous support of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

The America's Best Idea Program is closely tied to film maker Ken Burns' new film The National Parks: America's Best Idea. The film will premier on public television this fall and is a co-production of PBS/WETA and Florentine Films. The focus of the grants awarded through this program is to extend the reach of the important lessons offered in the film to reach new/ethnic minority/traditionally underserved groups and to inspire their future stewardship of our national parks.

The partnership is a great example of two organizations with complementary missions working together to strengthen their programs and outreach efforts. Ellen Wheeler, Executive Director of the Udall Foundation, said of the partnership, "We are excited about the possibilities presented in this new formal relationship with Parks in Focus and the Grand Canyon National Park. It will greatly enhance our ability to make a lasting impression on youth in Arizona and around the country with regard to this important natural resource." The Udall Foundation was created by Congress to honor Morris K. Udall's 30 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives (1961 to 1991). Udall was a leader in many policy areas, including natural resources and the environment, governmental reforms, and Native American issues. The Udall Foundation carries on his legacy through a number of programs, among them, education programs designed to foster a passion and commitment for the nation's natural resources in the next generation. Parks in Focus is one such program; it speaks directly to the first objective of the Foundation's enabling legislation: "To increase the awareness of the importance of, and promote the benefit and enjoyment of, the nation's natural resources."

The National Park Service provides interpretive services to increase each visitor's enjoyment and understanding of the Park, to allow visitors to care about the Park on their own terms. The National Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resources conservation and outdoor recreation throughout the United States. Grand Canyon National Park's Environmental Education Program works extensively with elementary age kids through this curriculum based school program and Junior Ranger Programs. Through their partnership, the National Park Service and Udall Foundation will build upon the success of past cooperative efforts through jointly run programs such as the Parks in Focus program.

Since 1999, Parks in Focus has been connecting underserved youth to nature through the art of photography. With the help of trained Udall Scholarship alumni leaders the Foundation organizes week-long trips to introduce members of local Boys & Girls Clubs, many of whom have never before left their communities, to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the country. The Foundation provides digital cameras to the young participants to use and keep and teaches the basics of photography, ecology, and conservation while exploring national parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands. The program began in Tucson with the Tucson Boys and Girls Clubs and often uses the Grand Canyon National Park as the setting for Parks in Focus trips. The Foundation has since expanded and now supports programs with Boys and Girls Clubs in New Jersey, Michigan, and Maine with plans to include more states, more parks, and more participants. Since the program's inception, approximately 200 youth have completed the Parks in Focus program.

As a part of the collaboration, in June, two groups of ten to twelve seventh graders from the Boys and Girls Club of Tucson will go on a five-day Parks in Focus trip through northern Arizona. Their trip will take them to Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, Marshall Lake in the Coconino National Forest, Slide Rock State Park, Red Rock State Park, an urban park in Flagstaff, Arizona and Grand Canyon National Park. For many of the young participants it will be their first trip outside of Tucson. The participants will be accompanied by a representative from the boys and girls clubs and trip leader Bobby Filbin, who is an alumnus of the Udall Foundation's scholarship program and an experienced Parks in Focus leader.

Thanks to new funding through the America's Best Idea grant, ten youth from the original trips will return to Grand Canyon for one week in August to camp in the backcountry to learn about the natural and cultural resources of the park through the lens of a camera. They will learn the skill of photography from renowned photographer Gary Ladd and the intricacies of nature from park rangers.

Photos taken and selected by the young participants will be included in an exhibit created by the National Park Service and the Udall Foundation and displayed at Park Headquarters within Grand Canyon National Park and at the Grand Canyon Railway Train Station in Williams, Arizona, which is owned and operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts.

With the assistance of KUAT Arizona Public Media (KUAT), the kids will also put together a short video using their photographs to document their summer experience. The video will be shown at a premiere event this September in Tucson for the Ken Burn's documentary film hosted by KUAT.

The National Park Service will also work with the Grand Canyon Association, a non profit organization that supports education, research and visitor services at Grand Canyon National Park, to incorporate the Ken Burn's film into their traveling trunks and video loan programs that will extend the appreciation of public lands to school students across the country.

"We hope the partnership between Grand Canyon National Park and the Udall Foundation will lead these young people to a lifelong appreciation of the outdoors and our public lands," stated Steve Martin, Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent.

For more information on this program, please call Jacob Fillion, Program Manager for Environmental Education, Grand Canyon National Park, at 928-638-7762 or Melissa Millage, Senior Program Manager for Parks in Focus, Morris K. Udall Foundation, at 520-901-8562.

For more information on Grand Canyon National Park, please call 928-638-7888 or log on to the park's website at

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