Last Thursday, I hopped on an early morning flight and made my way to Estes Park, Colorado. You may not think of the little mountain town that serves as an entry to the Rocky Mountains as a hub of urban thought and innovation, but last week that is exactly what it was.
Over 100 Groundwork USA youth leaders, staff, and federal land management partners descended upon the YMCA of the Rockies to share their initiatives and efforts to better connect with and serve urban areas as a part of the Groundwork USA National Conference and Youth Summit.
Throughout the day, partners from the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Groundwork Trusts from across the country shared their stories of urban connection and the multiple benefits of building stronger relationships between communities and natural areas. Along with our NPS partners, Urban Fellows, and their Groundwork counterparts, we held a panel discussion exploring the NPS Urban Agenda and how it seeks to align and partner with communities in new and innovative ways.
The importance of collaboration was a main theme throughout the conference. Many speakers touched on the challenges and resources necessary for authentic, successful collaboration. However, all highlighted it as critical to the future sustainability and health of national parks, open spaces, wildlife refuges, and the communities themselves.
While it was a great opportunity to learn about complimentary efforts across federal agencies, the highlight of the day was hearing the youth leaders of Groundwork talk about their work and the profound impact that it is having on their communities and their lives. Groundwork’s youth development programs provide extensive training in community and conservation skills and hands-on experiences on public lands through paid, neighborhood-based opportunities. The work of the Groundwork youth leaders connected the discussion around reaching new audiences and collaborating with new communities with on-the-ground examples of how these principles can be applied in practice with profound impact.
Seeing these youth leaders in action and hearing their personal stories reminded me of why I was in the room, grappling with this challenging but impactful work.