Shelby: From sea to shining sea, America is home to some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. From active volcanoes and gushing geysers to sculpted rock and exotic wildlife, these wonders of the land have been inspiring Americans for generations. But they might not be around for us to enjoy if it weren’t for the National Park System, often called “America’s Best Idea.”
Laura Losmozos: We see so many cool things that I wouldn’t get to see anywhere else.
Simon Fierst: There’s just something about being out here that makes time seem not as important, I guess.
Shelby: The idea behind national parks goes back to the 19th century when the nation was rushing to conquer and claim land in the west. It was a time of bold exploration. But along with progress came problems. Forests were destroyed, wild animals were killed and natural habitats were threatened. Worried that the country’s natural treasures would be forever destroyed, some people began pushing for laws to save the land.
In 1872, congress passed a bill to protect Yellowstone’s 2 million acres of legendary geysers, thermal basins, waterfalls and wildlife, making it the first national park – not just in America, but in the world.
Over the years, the idea of preserving land gained popularity, and today, there are 58 national parks in the U.S., more than 52 million acres of land set aside for “the benefit and the enjoyment of the people.”
Even though they are protected, America’s parks still face threats –even Yellowstone, which has been set aside for almost one and a half centuries. Every year, more than 3 million people come to Yellowstone to see the wild animals and geologic wonders up close.
But as more and more people come to Yellowstone, the more important it becomes to conserve the park so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
That’s one reason why these teens applied to be in the park’s Youth Conservation Corps, or YCC, over the summer.
Laura: What we do at YCC is a lot of trail work. We build buck and rail fences. Mostly, it helps the people who are coming to Yellowstone.
Shelby: For the past 23 years, the YCC has selected high school students from across the country to live and work in Yellowstone. It’s a big deal to get accepted, but it’s no easy task.
Mike Tiegs: I love this kind of work. Being outside every day, out in Yellowstone.
Shelby: For five weeks over summer break, the teens build fences, restore boardwalks, rehab trails, and complete a number of other projects to help keep the park in good shape.
Mike: There’s a list, and the list just keeps going on and on.
Shelby: One of the big projects for this year’s group was building bear boxes!
Simon: We have 16 bear boxes. We loaded one right there.
Shelby: The teens set up boxes throughout the campground.
Now, Yellowstone is bear country, so campers use these things kind of like pantries. And they put their food inside of them so the food doesn’t smell and attract bears to the campground. Like the other projects, these bear boxes play an important role in maintaining the park’s balance, a key part of the YCC’s mission.
Laura: It’s really great that people come here to enjoy nature, but at the same time, they have to realize that this is really to preserve what’s in it. So, it’s kind of a balance between conservation and safety for the people that come here.
Shelby: Maintaining this balance is a challenge for other parks across the country too. But it’s not the only problem. For decades, national parks were a top destination for tourists. But recent studies suggest that fewer young people are visiting.
Simon: In this day and age, it’s something that is valued less by the younger generation. And soon that generation will be able to vote, stuff like that.
Shelby: That’s important because parks are also facing problems with things like pollution, climate change, water shortages and commercial development.
Mike: I know people are caring less and less about the parks but, just think in the generations to come, they’re going to be like, “What’s Yellowstone if people keep like that.” And they’re going to be like, “Why is there just this bare land?”
Shelby: Throughout the year, we’ll be taking you inside some of our national parks to explore America’s natural treasures, the issues threatening national parks and the solutions that could help us preserve our land for the benefit and the enjoyment of generations to come.