by: Erin Erickson
So far, The Class of 2016 has been an amazing adventure for me because it has lead me closer to the Park and provided a plethora of opportunities that have given me a better understanding the natural world as a whole. After being accepted as a member of the Class of 2016, I was excited, however I had no idea that I would get to partake in so many unique activities and learning experiences. For example, I have loved getting to know everyone in the Class of 2016. We are all enthusiastic about our role as youth stewards for the Park, and we are able to lead maturely while having fun. I have also loved learning more about the Park at student volunteer days, where students like us help monitor streams and the critters who live in them. Essentially, we have the opportunity to contribute to scientific research that is used to better understand the ecosystem. Another part of the 2016 program that I have found to be influential has been helping out with Citizen Science projects, including salamander identification and monarch tagging. There are few activities that are as relaxing yet engaging as frolicking in a wide field in Cade’s Cove, searching for monarchs and other butterflies to identify.
This summer, I had to opportunity to help out at Tremont’s Discovery Camp, where I connected nine through-twelve-year olds with the great outdoors. Obviously, I am passionate about introducing kids to the wonder of nature, so I enjoyed every minute that I got to spend with my campers. This position at Tremont stemmed from my involvement as a member of the Class of 2016, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. Although the days were long and tiring, I got to share such awesome things with the campers, including interesting cultural history facts about Walker Valley and boat races down the Middle Prong. I will never forget the time when a shy and reserved camper stepped out of her shell and squirmed with excitement when she spotted an Eastern Box Turtle on a hike. Every time a camper turned around with a wide grin spread across their face after finding a Water Penny, their excitement gave me a sense of fulfillment knowing that I introduced them to the invaluable natural features of East Tennessee. In fact, these priceless reactions have helped me realize my interest in education, and I hope to become a teacher so that I can share the importance of the National Park and nature preservation with kids.
Clearly, it is crucial that the National Parks stay relevant to Americans, and our job is to stay engaged with GSMNP through these four years and beyond. We are really becoming well informed citizens who care for the Park and understand the threats facing it. I definitely would not be so enthusiastic and passionate about the National Park Service had I not joined the Class of 2016, and I am looking forward to the leadership roles we take on as youth stewards in the future.