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Say Hello to Youth Outdoors- Our New Future Stewards Initiative

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An essential part of the FRIENDS’ mission is to preserve the national treasure of the Blue Ridge Parkway for future generations. This means engaging young stewards early and opening the door to public lands in a way that is welcoming, inclusive, and lasting. We’ve led efforts to increase the number of Junior Rangers, engage more college students through the Alternative Break program, and get more youth volunteers out and on the Parkway with our chapters. But as the call for more diversity and wider accessibility spreads throughout parks on a national level, we began to think of all the ways we could invite youth who don’t normally have access to learn about and enjoy our Park.

This is where Youth Outdoors was born. Y.O. is a developing underserved youth mentorship program designed to engage groups of youth with more access to public lands. Working with FRIENDS Chapters and Alternative Break groups, these students will be a part of outdoor activities that encompass a number of educational, environmental, and cultural experiences.


Resting and reflecting after reaching the top.


Thanks to generous funding from the Hillsdale Foundation and the hard work of our volunteers, the initiative has quickly met and exceeded many of our initial expectations! Something beyond volunteer work has taken place- we are truly “mentoring outdoors,” and that covers such a vast expanse of ideas from trail work, to learning camping skills and wilderness survival, to cultural music demos, or even just going on an educational group hike. The goal is to build relationships, so the program can further take shape.

The Fisher Peak Chapter, who piloted the program with their 2016 Alternative Break group, developed a Parkway cultural music program that has already been shared in an outdoor setting twice with local youth. Seven hand-made mountain dulcimers have even been purchased for use in future events!

Learning about bear safety.

Learning about bear safety.


The largest event so far was one of the program’s proudest moments. In July, sixteen youth from the Waynesboro Boys and Girls Club joined Karen Orlando, members of the Humpback Rocks Chapter, and FRIENDS staff on an educational group hike. After making trail mix, Jon Swain, summer interpreter with the NPS, introduced the Parkway to the kids and brought pelts of Parkway critters. He also gave a brief description of bear behavior and what to do if you happen upon a bear on a hike.

“On our Humpback Rocks hike with the Boys and Girls Club, many kids (and myself included) didn’t think we could make it to the top. However, we stopped for breaks, encouraged each other…and after we got there, the children remarked at how worth it the hike was- the view was astounding. It was more than just hiking and learning trail markings, there was a much greater take away- to not give up when you struggle, take a break, and keep going.”
Jennifer Snyder,
Program Creator

At the end of hike, as they scarfed down lunch, all of the youth beamed with pride. The last student to finish arrived back at the picnice area, took off his backpack, and said “I’m ready to go back again!”

Building teamwork along the way!

Building teamwork along the way!


With the help of members like you, support for the program will help facilitate things like:
-more group hikes with educational sessions from local rangers
-expanded curriculum for more cultural and environmental topics
-safety and trail equipment for use by youth participating in activities
-support for the volunteers who make it all happen!

Click here to donate to Youth Outdoors!

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