Grand Canyon among sites chosen as outdoor classroom for Indigenous youth

A member of the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps participates in removal of vegetation encroaching on a campsite along the Colorado River. (NPS Photo)

A member of the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps participates in removal of vegetation encroaching on a campsite along the Colorado River. (NPS Photo)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Funds from the National Park Foundation will once again be providing on-the-job training at Grand Canyon National Park and other NPS sites for a dozen Indigenous youth.

Participants from Kewa (Santo Domingo) and the Pueblo of Isleta near Albuquerque, as well as the Navajo Nation will be participating in the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps.

Funding for the program is part of a $4 million initiative in service programs from a variety of corporate sponsors.

“Grand Canyon is recognized as a place of emergence and as a sacred site for many neighboring Indigenous populations,” said Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Ed Keable said. “Few Indigenous youth are able to journey to Grand Canyon for many reasons, including barriers to transportation, financial means and accessibility. Our goal through the Native Conservation Corps is to provide a pathway to bring underserved Indigenous youth to Grand Canyon and involve them in conservation projects in an effort to keep their legacy as stewards alive and well.”

The youth will be working at El Malpais and El Morro National Monuments in New Mexico and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

During the event, participants will learn about careers in public lands, participate in conservation projects, improve visitor access and carry out backlogged maintenance projects.

“Service corps opens the door to a world of opportunities to gain leadership skills and give back to national parks,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “The National Park Foundation and our partners are proud to support programs that make lasting positive impacts for both parks and people.”

At Grand Canyon, participants will spend 11 days on the Colorado River, working with Department of the Interior scientists and Grand Canyon Youth river guides to collect data on climate change and document Monarch butterfly sightings.

“Scientists have identified the southwest as a climate change hotspot,” said Grand Canyon National Park Vegetation Program Manager Lonnie Pilkington. “The scientific elements of this project will contribute to data understanding the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River ecosystem.”

Another project will be contributing data from three sites within the park to the “Dragonfly Mercury Project,” a national database on mercury levels in Dragonfly larvae.

“Mercury often enters parks as air pollution from distant, human-caused sources, like coal-burning power plants,” Pilkington said. “Dragonfly larvae are excellent indicators of mercury risk because they can live for years underwater eating insects and even small fish. Once it is deposited, mercury can build up inside the larvae and givae scientists insight into the health of the waters in which they live. Using parks as classrooms, this study provides data for natural resource managers to protect human and wildlife health.”

Participants will also help mitigate impacts of climate change within the Grand Canyon by removing bulbous bluegrass and collecting seeds from native plants to restore habitat for pollinators.

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