By Kirsten Gallo
National parks are places of learning, healing, beauty and wonder. And it’s a struggle to be relevant to people who are increasingly disconnected from nature as we spend more and more time inside and online. The National Park Service (NPS) has a variety of programs focused getting youth into parks and cultivating the next generation of people who love parks.
Radical Transformation Leadership (RTL) tools, particularly the conscious full spectrum response (CFSR) model, substantially increased the impact of our work. We learn the RTL tools through practice—each person who participates in an RTL learning-in-action program leads a project through which we practice using the tools. The first year I hosted an RTL program, NPS had a major initiative focused on bringing youth into parks. I asked RTL participants to align their projects with the NPS youth initiative. I did not prescribe or design the projects, I simply said “youth in parks, CFSR model.” Twenty-four people in the RTL program aligned their projects with the youth in parks initiative. As a result of their efforts, youth spent 450,000 hours working in our parks. Prior to that time, we had around 50,000 youth hours each year. We have sustained these numbers for the past several years. This is the power of using the CFSR model to align projects to create synergy.
The NPS Inventory and Monitoring program measures the condition of natural resources in 300 parks across the US. We monitor the health of forests, quality of the air and water, the diversity of birds, wildlife and much more. The people who work with the Inventory and Monitoring program collect natural resource data such as measuring trees, counting birds, and collecting water samples in parks. When you are conducting monitoring, it’s important to measure things the same way through time. Therefore, it’s important that we train people to collect data in a certain way.
We incorporated the CFSR elements into the field-crew training programs. Our training objective was to teach staff how to safely and accurately collect field measurements. How to identify and measure trees, for example. We also included a lot of safety training related to working in remote areas. This portion of the training falls into the inner circle of the CFSR model. For the middle circle, we talked about how we use their work to manage natural resources. For example, tree measurements relate to the health of the forest and can be used to determine extent of pine beetle infestation and to identify places of highest potential for restoration. We also provided them copies of reports generated from their work. During the training, we asked our staff what they deeply care about and connected to our conservation mission—how their work with us leads to the conservation of park resources (outer circle of the CFSR model).
The result was greater engagement of our staff, higher quality data collected, they took initiative and assisted in analysis and reporting. Many of our field staff are undergraduates or recent graduates. They started telling us that they decided to pursue degrees and careers in natural resources as a result of their experience with us.
All of the youth projects and the training programs was work we were already doing. We didn’t do anything new or extra. It didn’t cost us any extra money, we simply redesigned existing programs based on the CFSR model. Incorporating these tools into our training programs helped us get more young people into parks, working with us in the parks, and led more of them to careers in natural resources.
The purpose of getting youth into parks was so people would come to parks. We want people to love their parks and want to care for them, and of course receive the health and well-being benefits of doing so. However, by using the CFS tools, we not only increased the number of young people in the parks, we began creating the next generation of stewards, which is far more meaningful.