Liz Putnam


The National Park Service greeted a record-shattering 307.2 million visitors in 2015. Ironically, however, national parks are becoming irrelevant to large segments of our society. The typical national park visitor is approaching retirement age. Nearly four in five visitors are White, despite the fact that Whites currently make up less than 63% of the US population and are on pace to be in the minority by 2044. Throw in the nature-deficit disorder epidemic among today’s youth and the ongoing shift in our population to urban areas, and the trends do not bode well for the future of our parks.

The National Park Service recognizes this dilemma as it charts a direction for its second century, and it has prioritized increasing youth engagement and cultivating a more diverse and inclusive following. The Student Conservation Association (SCA) has been making substantial contributions in these areas for the past six decades, but the transformative impact of SCA experiences in national parks and other wilderness areas been fully measured and analyzed only in the past year or so. The findings provide a formula for significantly advancing youth development as well as preserving our parks, and the evidence has been there from the very start.