MANATEE -- De Soto National Memorial won a $10,000 grant from the National Park Foundation for its “Fresh Eyes” program aimed at attracting teens and young adults through a youth advisory council.
The grant will allow the park to buy laptops and other equipment so that the youth advisory council can set up websites promoting the parks, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media venues to promote the park.
The project got started this year after Art Durshimer, a Bayshore High School teacher, became a volunteer at the park. While working with park Superintendent Scott Pardue, they talked about getting a group of teens together to be part of an advisory council to explore ways to attract more teens to national parks.
Durshimer recruited nearly a dozen students from Bayshore High School. Now some of those students are set to graduate and Durshimer said they are ready to expand the program to include other schools.
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They are hoping the youth advisory council will help with that.
“Advisory council members have a unique opportunity to deliver relevant real-world park experiences to classmates and other teens in this area,” said Durshimer, who helped write the grant. “Their efforts will open park gates to a growing number of young people who will have the opportunity to connect to the park service and what it offers.”
Pardue said he had been searching for ways to reach out to young people.
“I think we all assumed they weren’t interested,” Pardue said. “They want to be a part of it, they just needed to be invited.”
Now that they have a youth advisory council, Pardue said, interest is sure to grow.
“Who better to advocate about national parks to kids, than other kids?” Pardue said. “We are opening ourselves to a viable audience that’s not traditionally at parks, and don’t we need to do that?”
Pardue said that teens use social media, Twitter and Facebook to communicate. By getting them involved in spreading the message for the park, “we’re talking their language, getting them enthused and having them make a difference,” he said.
So far they have already seen a pay off -- not just with the grant.
Abraham Sanchez, a member of the advisory board, summed up what first impressed him in kayaking the Manatee River and going to the memorial.
“It’s better than reading it in a history book,” he said.
Eye-opening experiences are what the National Park Foundation was counting on in awarding 19 grants to national parks across the country.
“We must create opportunities for all Americans to have access to and enjoy their national parks,” said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation.
“With these grants, we’re connecting more and more people to the parks, while building and strengthening long-lasting support, appreciation and commitment to protecting ‘America’s Best Idea.’ ”