Young adults working in parks is on one level all you need to know about the Student Conservation Association. Liz Putnam founded SCA in 1957 based upon her senior thesis at Vassar. From the simple idea of hard work outdoors in parks to serve the public generations of kids have become life long stewards not only of the public lands but of themselves.
I was in San Francisco ten days ago for the annual meeting of SCA’s board. We actually stayed in Marin County or rather under the Golden Gate bridge at Cavallo Point Lodge in the decommissioned former Fort Baker. What the Presidio is to the other side of the bridge, Fort Baker is to Marin County.
The National Park Service took over both former military installations. You could argue those two pieces of property on either side of the Golden Gate were the most valuable potential development properties in the world. You can see from the pictures the views are even more spectacular from Cavallo Point than from Sausalito.
Instead of homes for the rich the Park Service preserved the early 20th century military buildings and in a public private partnership built out a LEED Gold resort. The resort is accessible to non-profits, particularly conservation oriented, at reduced rates. It represents in essence the end game of urban conservation – a restored and economically viable open space dedicated to the public.
The dinner on Saturday night to celebrate Liz’s 80th birthday was a typical SCA event – it was all about the kids. Almost all the awards and speeches were from young adults in their late teens and early twenties. The effects of leading crews armed with shovels and chain saws into the wilderness translates into the maturity to address a room packed full of baby-boomers.
But earlier in the day the Board had focused on another part of the SCA mission and another part of San Francisco Bay. We drove across San Francisco into the old port just below the San Francisco Naval Shipyard to Heron’s Head Park. Surrounded by public and low income housing, a recycling plant, and a remediated Superfund site, this is not a Golden Gate experience.
But here in the depths of an urban landscape in the midst of remediation were three SCA interns working with the San Francisco City Parks to restore this gritty wetland. And once again these young adults addressed the Board on the history of the park, the ecology of it, the recovery efforts, and the community. It is worth noting that almost all of the kids who addressed us over the weekend were young women.
We spent a couple of hours weeding around reintroduced Bay area native plants. It was a far cry from the thirty days of living out of bear boxes and tents in Rocky Mountain National Park I have seen first hand with an SCA trail crew. But it was also a reminder that SCA is not just about Yellowstone and Yosemite, the spectacular parks. It is also about inner-city youth making the connection locally to open space.
If you have a young person in your life that could benefit from hard work outdoors, introduce her or him to the SCA. If you know a young person wanting to make their transition to adulthood include public service, introduce him or her to the SCA. If you know a young person with the potential for strong leadership, but needing that one pivotal experience to achieve their destiny, introduce her or him to the SCA.
And if I can be of any help to you in connecting, just let me know. Because SCA is not waiting around for Congress or moaning about the obstacles facing youth in America. It is changing young lives for the better every single day.