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The Mass Media

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Students Preserving and Conserving Our National Parks

Writer Emma Lena along with her SCA group

Over spring break, I went to the Great Smokey National Park in Gatlinburg, TN for an internship orientation with 29 other college students. It is hard to describe how amazing this experience was. Founded in 1957, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) is the oldest and longest non-profit service organization in the country. Their mission statement explains that they aim to build new generations of conservation leaders and to inspire lifelong stewardship of the environment.

SCA provides internships, community programs, and conservation corps positions to students of all ages. Everyone is welcome to apply on the SCA’s website. What I did over spring break was a little different, however. SCA partnered with the National Park Service (NPS) to give ethnically diverse college students the opportunity to work in the parks over the summer.

NPS has been part of the U.S Department of the Interior for almost 100 years, but the NPS Academy had its first group of students only last year. NPS Academy has three phases: the orientation, the summer internship, and becoming an ambassador to promote SCA and NPS. This program focuses on bringing together cultural diversity and biodiversity. After orientation, our group leaders decide which park in the United States would be the best fit for us.

Part of the responsibility of the parks is to tell the whole history of the United States – the good, the bad, and the ugly. That cultural aspect is something I personally didn’t know was present in national parks. There are 397 national park units in the United States, ranging from big parks like Yellowstone in Wyoming and Yosemite in California, to smaller places like the Carl Sandburg Home in North Carolina and Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, MA.

We spent one day learning about the history of the people who lived in the Great Smokies before it was made into a national park. The rangers working in that area are just as important as the rangers working on the trails or the campground. We made corn bread in a log cabin using only hot coals to bake it. It was the first time I had ever eaten corn bread made from white corn. I had a lot of firsts this week, including seeing a bear and biking eight miles.

We spent the week exploring the park and the variety of jobs available there. It was surprising to see the different departments of the park and how much they depend on each other. It is more of a business than most people think. There are people working with trail maintenance, with the fisheries, with search and rescue, in the fire department, in construction and architecture, in information technology, and many other pieces that help the park function.

American Novelist Thomas Wolfe said, “Nature is the one place where miracles not only happen, but happen all the time.” I experienced that this week. I realized not many places can have that effect on you. It is an indescribable feeling that you can only appreciate once you’ve visited a national park. After being there for one whole week, I cannot wait to get back to the Great Smokies or to whichever park I am assigned to for my internship.

For more information about SCA, go to http://www.thesca.org/ or http://www.nps.gov/index.htm for the NPS. If you’d like to know more about my personal experience or how to get involved with SCA now, you can contact me at [email protected].