The Challenge of National Parks Far From Cities


I-Yel group shot, Crissy Field Center

Golden Gate is a unique national park for many reasons: its urban setting, its sprawling expanse across three counties, and its award-winning youth education programs at Crissy Field Center.

The Center’s mission exudes our commitment to engaging youth—from our school programs, where students learn experientially about native plants and birds, to our year-long I-YEL high school internship program, where we encourage participants to explore the park and the issues of social and environmental justice that are important to them. The programs at Crissy Field Center strive to foster a connection between youth and their national parks.

Recently, I visited Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. That park boasts the “classic” hallmarks of a National Park: mountains, lakes, and meadows, all overflowing with a diverse array of wildlife. It is also miles away from any big city.

I began thinking about what it would be like to have a “Crissy Field Center” there—a place where students could go and learn in their national park in ways that were meaningful to them. Would they study the oppression of the Arapaho people and their connections to the land, or correlations between climate change and the proliferation of the mountain pine beetle in the Rocky Mountain parks? Would students create a project about increasing diversity in visitors to more rural national parks? What are the ways to make national parks relevant to every young person in America?

The Crissy Field Center has been successful in creating relevant connections between national park lands and youth, in part due to our urban setting. It’s also been easier for us to commit to promoting diversity and multiculturalism in our parks for that same reason.

But I think our success also stems from a passion and belief in our work. There are surely ways to foster the same spirit in the rural parks across the nation—if we commit to finding them. Every national park should have a Crissy Field Center, a place that promotes youth engagement, multiculturalism, diversity, and environmental and social justice.

Elyse Wood joined the Parks Conservancy’s

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