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Superintendent’s View

Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan SteeleSuperintendent’s View: Creating Lasting Connections
By Sheridan Steele
Winter 2014 Friends of Acadia Journal

After 37 years in the National Park Service, I have been reflecting on my role in creating the next generation of park stewards. The timing is especially important as we reach the 100th anniversary of Acadia and the National Park System in 2016. How can we assure that today’s youth will care as much about Acadia’s future as we—today’s park stewards—do?

I believe that Friends of Acadia has developed one of the answers. By designing and funding innovative and carefully crafted teams of teens and young adults to tackle meaningful park projects, FOA enables young people to both build important life skills and be inspired by the National Park Service mission and values. Friends of Acadia hires youth from Acadia’s local communities and beyond, at a time when the NPS is no longer able to do so. The federal job market is flooded with adult applicants— making it impossible for young, inexperienced applicants to compete. We no longer have a “non-competitive” option for hiring teens or college-age youth, so the FOA teams offer our best chance to create lasting connections with this generation.

The Acadia Youth Conservation Corps (AYCC) reaches into Acadia’s surrounding communities to recruit high school students and challenges them to build trails, crack rocks, and fix drainages across the park. Following in the footsteps of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, these teens see the results of their hands-on, physical labor every day and push their endurance to the next level. Every hiker in Acadia benefits from their efforts.

The Acadia Youth Technology Team (AYTT) recruits teens willing to tackle technology issues in the park. How do we guide park visitors, especially kids and teens, to use their smart devices to appreciate the park instead of distract themselves from it? I’d like to see the next generation use their phones to take nature photos instead of play games. They need access to apps that will challenge them to learn about history or participate in citizen-science as they hike and explore Acadia. The AYTT is helping us to find tools and techniques for drawing this technology-focused generation out into nature.

The newest youth team, the Cadillac Summit Stewards, will create an important presence on the summit of Cadillac Mountain by helping the park to 1) identify issues affecting the visitor experience there and 2) document how visitors impact the fragile summit ecology. This group of young adults will document daily observations to give us better data for making decisions as we address the challenge of providing a quality experience to a growing number of visitors coming to the Cadillac Summit. They will give us insights into management of hikers, cars, and buses on the summit. They will help us to identify safety issues and will recommend solutions. At the same time, the Summit Stewards will welcome visitors to the park and, through one-on-one conversations, will help visitors tailor their Acadia visit and get more out of their time here. A small pilot team worked through this past fall to plan for a larger effort on the summit from July through October of 2015.

Acadia’s centennial events in 2016 will also provide a unique opportunity to connect youth to Acadia and its future. FOA is playing a critical role in empowering individuals and communities to participate in the celebration. They are reaching out to local teens and asking them to find fun and meaningful ways to experience Acadia. FOA is also supporting the development of a youth-produced film about Acadia from the perspective of today’s MDI High School students.

I ask you to join me in supporting the leadership role of FOA in building the next generation of park stewards. Please help us build more and better teen internships and innovative experiences designed for this generation. Let’s continue to work together to assure that the youth of today are Acadia’s