2015 Concrete to Canyons – First Experiences

Do you remember the first time that you saw a waterfall? Last week, Sam, a Las Vegas fifth grade student participating in Zion’s Concrete to Canyons program, looked up at Mystery Falls along Zion’s Narrows and proclaimed his joy and pride at this first experience. He was part of a group of 22 students from Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy and Rainbow Dreams Academy who are camping for two nights and participating in three days of curriculum-based programming in Zion’s main canyon. After five weeks of the program, nearly 150 students, parent chaperons, and teachers will have participated. Aided by a partnership with two other NPS units, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Parashant National Monument, Zion is hosting this award-winning program for the third year due to the support of the Zion National Park Foundation and generous contributions.

The program is life-changing for some of the students who have never put up a tent, witnessed a deer grazing, hiked a scenic trail, or gazed at stars in the night sky. During Dinosaur Discovery, the students travel back 200-million years in imaginary time machines and meet some of Zion’s earliest animal inhabitants and then make a cast of a dinosaur track to take home. After visiting with past life, they fast forward to the time of the Native Puebloans, finding survival by pretending to hunt for deer by throwing spears at targets, and finding yuccas to make sandals and rope. On the second day of adventuring, the students start with a shuttle ride to Weeping Rock to learn about water, rocks, and time. Then while hiking to Big Bend, students identify habitats by looking from the river to the high plateaus, and discover animals that inhabit each of Zion’s rich zones of life. Based on the weather forecast, the final day of the trip includes a challenge hike into the Narrows to Mystery Falls, or a hike along the Kayenta Trail to the Middle Emerald Pools. For many of the students this is the highlight of the trip, including a glimpse at the famous Zion Snail.

C2C3_C to C_Hiking_L Kirkham_NPS_395k_300x450_72dpiThe Concrete to Canyons partnership team has been delighted to receive stories from past participants sharing what the trip meant to them:

Zion National Park, what a place. My favorite part was the river. I felt like I was on another planet in the river. It was the most amazing thing I’ve seen or experienced. Out there I was so relaxed and calm on a peaceful river bank. I was so relieved of all my stress; I was in my own world. Zion was the best experience of my 10 year-old life!    Lemetraonia

I enjoyed seeing deer at the campsite. When they came, I was afraid at first, but then I saw that they weren’t going to hurt me, they only wanted a bite to eat. My experience was great, and my favorite experience was seeing animals in their natural habitats, something that I never saw before.     Melody

I loved everything:, the campfire, the stars, the bats, and the mule deer. It was such an experience that I can’t even pick the best, because everything was awesome! I love Zion!     Noah    

C2C15_C to C_Hiking_L Kirkham_NPS_395k_300x450_72dpiInstead of just a one-time event, the program is designed to help connect underserved youth with nature and foster life-long interest in national parks and the outdoors. After participating in the program at Zion, the students travel to Lake Mead National Recreation Area for a stewardship-day later in the year. The following summer at Zion, all participants and their families are invited to the park for a camping weekend. Finally, NPS partners have invited the families to join a nature club back in Las Vegas to continue to explore outdoor areas.

In 2014, the partnership team won the NPS Director’s Wes Henry National Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Award for this program to engage underserved youth in making life-long connections to national parks. Donations to the Zion National Park Foundation have provided Sam’s first sight of a waterfall and new connections for over 400 urban families during the last three years. What a contribution!

Your donation helps create the next generation of park stewards and helps children and their families connect to the magnificent natural world at Zion National Park through the Youth Education Initiative.

Article by Barb Graves, Education Specialist, Zion National Park

Photos courtesy of Liz Kirkham-Sodja, Zion Education Technician