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Youth invited to be 'Ambassadors for Wilderness' at dunes

Posted: Thursday, Mar 28th, 2013

Great Sand Dunes National Park's “Ambassadors for Wilderness” program is accepting applications until April 15 for local teenagers to enjoy a summer’s worth of activities in the park’s wilderness. Courier file photo by Ruth Heide

SAND DUNES — Local junior high and high school students from Colorado and northern New Mexico are invited to “go wild” this summer at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Park’s award-winning “Ambassadors for Wilderness” program is accepting applications until April 15th to host a selection of local teenagers for a summer’s worth of activities in the park’s wilderness.

“Great Sand Dunes has spectacular wilderness environments and most people, even those who have visited the park many times, have never seen them,” says Education Specialist Melanie Rawlins. “Participants in our program not only get to know these remote places, but they come away with valuable new skills, memories, and lasting friendships.”

National Park Service rangers will lead participants on backcountry trips to build outdoor skills and teach leadership, Leave No Trace, field science, and park management. Participants interact with professionals in the field working in law enforcement, search and rescue, science, and trails.

The connections made on these trips not only make for strong college applications but also a valuable professional network that can lead to paying jobs.

These journeys go beyond the familiar campground and dunes play area. Students will backpack up to the crest of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and down to remote stretches of the park’s dunefield. The remote environment and separation from modern amenities effectively focuses every sensory, physical, and social experience.

“In this group, if one falls, we all fall, and if one perseveres, so do the rest. You matter, and so does everyone else,” wrote former participant and student instructor Marlee Canada, 16, of Mosca.

Upon completion of the trip, participants receive a disk of their own video and photographic journalism with which to compose an original movie telling the summer’s story in their own words. This creative act makes the student eligible for earned volunteer service hours and camping equipment they can keep. Leadership opportunities can be informal or progress with the student’s achievements.

Former participants are eligible to participate in a new advanced session for alumni only or even to become student instructors for the program. These proven leaders are then eligible to apply for a 10-week paid summer position at Great Sand Dunes.

“These kids go home with great outdoor skills, of course, but they also go home with valuable career leads, contacts, and life skills for college and the future,” says Rawlins.

The Ambassadors for Wilderness program charges no fees. Food, gear, transportation, and entrance fees are paid for by the program. The participant is responsible only for his or her own personal clothing and transportation to the park. Junior high school sessions last five days and high school sessions last seven days. All current 7th through 11th graders are encouraged to apply.

This program is an exciting part of the park’s educational offerings. It allows interested students to not only delve deep into the park’s resources, but also to explore and challenge themselves in new ways. Jed Smith, now in college and a summer seasonal ranger at Great Sand Dunes, wrote during his first session with the Ambassadors, “Every day in the wild is like a new adventure. There are endless possibilities.”

Applications, due April 15th, and additional information are available on the park’s website (www.nps.gov/grsa/ambassadors-for-wilderness.htm) or by calling the Education Specialist at 378-6344.

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