BUILDING GRIT IN UTAH WITH GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE PARTNERS
The Escalante River seems almost entirely unfettered but for one small dam as it runs through the semi-arid, red rock canyon country of southern Utah. Through insufferable late summer heat, in the deepest of American backcountry spaces, a youth corps labors along its banks to remove invasive woody plants that are choking the river and affecting fish migration routes.
This next generation of stewards is working to rehabilitate the local ecology — and in the process, themselves.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners’ (GSEP) Youth Riparian Restoration Program, a KEEN Effect Grant recipient, has restored over 78 miles of the Escalante’s landscape once overwhelmed by invasive woody plants like Russian olive and tamarisk. The crews consist of local, at-risk youth working alongside college-educated mentors striving to gain a hard-earned education and real world skills. On the job, they learn Wilderness First Aid and CPR, earn sawyer certifications, and practice Leave No Trace ethics. Through it all, they forge meaningful connections with the land and their teammates through gritty, intensive, 3-months-long corps service tours.
It’s amazing to watch corps members grow and build a love for the outdoors. This project has been life changing to them because of the friendships, and the time disconnected from technology.
Research shows that these service corps projects can significantly grow community and environmental engagement, leadership, and critical thinking. In addition to these, what GSEP excels at is grit. Long months spent working in extremely challenging environments builds the passion and perseverance that, when instilled in youth challenged with poverty or broken homes, can transform lives.
This September, the next youth corps will enter the backcountry to build its own grit just as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument continues to fight for its existence. Along with KEEN, GSEP and its coalition – private and public alike – recognize the value of maintaining the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s status for the benefit of the local ecology, multiple stakeholders, and multiple uses.
To show our support, KEEN will be marching alongside other outdoor industry brethren to the Utah state capital during the Outdoor Retailer trade show on Thursday, July 27. Please contact your local representative to voice your support as well.
If you or your favorite organization works to bring youth outside through environmental stewardship projects, natural science programs, or outdoor adventures, please apply for a KEEN Effect grant through September at keenfootwear.com/grants