Jimi Hightower, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Seattle
I spent this past weekend at North Cascades Institute’s (NCI) Environmental Learning Center. In the heart of the North Cascades, I brainstormed creative responses to diversity and education with partners from all over the region, and was immensely inspired by local students who were incredibly passionate about the environment. NCI seeks to inspire closer relationships with nature through direct experiences in the natural world. Their mission is to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education and their goal is to help people of all ages experience and enjoy the mountains, rivers, forests, people, and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. In partnership with the National Park Service and the City of Seattle, NCI opened the Environmental Learning Center to create a hub of discovery into one of the wildest, most biologically diverse landscapes in North America. This year, NCI hosted their 6th annual Youth Leadership Conference in partnership with North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. This year, over 60 youth ages 14-22 gathered for three days in the North Cascades in order to enhance their leadership and communication skills, build resumes, explore higher education opportunities, and connect with organizations to build work skills and experiences towards a fulfilling career. I was able to participate in a partnership building forum in which conservation professionals shared ideas on how to strengthen youth engagement with public lands. We discussed parallels that could be drawn between natural and urban landscapes in order to better relate to students the importance of conservation and highlight ways they can effectively lead strategies in their own communities. During the opportunity fair, I was able to share internships and volunteer opportunities with these remarkable students. They were very excited about the opportunities available at KLSE and were eager to learn what led us to working with the NPS and SCA. The eventful day came to a close with an evening presentation featuring a student success panel. The students were absolutely inspiring and made me so incredibly proud to be a part of this passionate community.