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20/something Vision: The Next Generation of Leadership


arrow Learn more about the “Hulet Hornbeck” Youth Scholarship Fund


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Youth Scholars Assessment of 2013 International Trails Symposium

By Jeff Spellman, retired
City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation

After almost two long years in the making, this symposium was the first for American Trails to be dubbed “International Trails Symposium” as it was held on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and hosted attendees from around the world including:  Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

Through funds provided by generous sponsors, American Trails was proud to offer 18 scholarships from the American Trails Hulet Hornbeck Youth Scholarship Fund to youth between the ages of 18-26 to attend the 21st International Trails Symposium held at Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Radisson Resort near Fountain Hills, Arizona.

In addition to attending the Symposium, chosen scholarship winners experienced a one-day field trip immersion focused on all types of recreation trails and resource management issues. They hiked and biked various desert trails and also paddled water trails on the lower Salt River.  They learned about off-highway vehicle issues and they even experienced archery trails at Usery Mountain Park.  To enhance the total experience the youth all stayed at the beautiful and historic Saguaro Lake Ranch at the base of Stewart Mountain Dam.  As a service-learning project, they worked on the Phon D. Sutton trail in the Tonto National Forest under the expert mentorship of our very own City of Phoenix park rangers Mike Faustich and Allyson Brennan.  What is so cool about this particular project is that the trail has been adopted by the ASU Parks and Recreation Student Association, and the skills students learn at the symposium will continue to benefit this trail for years to come. 

photo of cactus and desert mountains

Youth scholar Miya Akiyama and Mentor Michael Haynes, Director of
TransActive Solutions, Canada, exchange smiles and stories about their
experiences on the trails during some quiet time at the symposium

American Trails has always encouraged youth participation in their trails symposiums, but to grow this effort to the magnitude that we have accomplished this year was due first and foremost to the dream and vision of two very talented and passionate professionals:  Cate Bradley of the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program and Phyllis Rally of the Bureau of Land Management

These ladies worked tirelessly to raise the funds necessary to support the American Trails Hulet Hornbeck Youth Scholarship Fund.  They also assembled a team that would provide unique training and mentoring opportunities to inspire young adults to choose a career path so they, too, can leave a lasting legacy on the world— as Hulet did. 

Bradley, whose job at the RTCA supports community-led natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation projects, serves as the community assistance arm of the National Park Service.  Bradley has worked on many worthwhile projects, “but this one challenged and excited me on many levels,” she said.  Bradley loves the opportunity to work with youth to create bridges and bridge gaps between their perspectives and burgeoning experience to existing professional knowledge and the legacy of systems— natural, organizational, social and political. She continued, “Our success in passing on leadership for conservation and outdoor recreation will boil down to respectful listening, solid understanding of the history of the field, clear expression of ideas, open-mindedness, trust and commitment— just like the rest of life."

Hulet's vision was clear from the beginning of his career.  "I am well aware of the potential of open lands and the experience they can provide. I believe they are essential to the well-being of our citizens and future generations."  To prepare our next generation of leadership to care for the land as Hulet did, we need to listen to what our youth are saying about the future.  Sometimes we professionals think we have all the answers and that young people can only learn from us.  Sometimes we might even doubt their integrity or passion for the land and natural resources we care so deeply about.  Truth be told, the young people do realize how important open space is to the next generation and they are often out experiencing the wonders of nature on a regular basis.  They hike, bike, ride, run, climb and do just about anything else you can imagine on trails as they have a passion for the outdoors that can’t be matched.  How they will approach our profession in the future is certainly different than how we have approached it. 

As we professionals enter the waning years of our careers, we need to stop and listen to the young people.  We have much to offer in mentoring them, but we need to do it through their eyes.  The culmination of this scholarship experience was designed to do just that.  From the opening meet and greet, 19 youth scholarship participants worked in teams of two or three to seek out ITS attendees according to self-identified knowledge of ITS Program themes in order to learn more about the current issues of the themes, the best practices of the respective fields, and perceptions of future trends and needs within the theme topics. On the last day of the Symposium, during a 3-hour “20/something Vision” session, the youth teams presented their findings and included what their perceptions and experiences have been and what they see the needs are for the future. 

As the planning committee had hoped for, the benefits of this youth scholarship program went well beyond what the youth gained from attendance.  What professionals in the field learned from the interactions with these youth during the symposium was summed up so eloquently in a thank you note sent to the youth from Bob Ratcliffe of the National Park Service, whose agency helped to sponsor these youth to the symposium: 

"I just wanted to express my thanks for your hard work during the International Trails Symposium - your participation greatly enlivened, enriched and energized the proceedings and networking for all. I know I very much enjoyed my day outdoors recreating and learning so much from all of you. It was the best day of my year so far - and it will be hard to beat!

"I wanted to especially thank again Jeff, Amy, Cate, Candace, Phyllis, Bill, John, Lelia and all the mentors and others - especially the staff of American Trails - who helped make the program a success. I also wanted to share that many times during the conference I was approached by folks who told me how impressed they were with all the emerging young leaders - your collective energy, enthusiasm, professional skills and dedication to the spirit and importance of trails inspired many.

"I hope that our paths cross in the future and wish you all the best success as you pursue combining your passion with your careers. Happy Trails!"

—Bob Ratcliffe, Chief, Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Programs, National Park Service

And, of course, none of this would have been possible without the financial support of our sponsors.  The scholarship committee had this to say about their commitment: 

"We would like to thank you and your staff for your assistance with the full and rewarding activities day on Saturday April 13. We have just received our follow up survey back from those emerging leaders and they were unanimous in rating their day in the field “AWESOME!” Your kindness in comping the activity, or greatly reducing your fee, allowed us to make sure they had a well-rounded, informative and fun, fun, fun day! A full list of the scholarship sponsors can be found at the American Trails website."

In summary, I asked the other half of the dynamic duo what her vision is for the next generation of leadership.  Phyllis Ralley told me, “In reviewing the over 70 applications that we received for the scholarships, I paid special attention to their essays. I was blown away by the passion expressed by this group of trail lovers. Many of them credited their parents with taking them to the outdoors. Some have only recently come to know and love the natural world. We often hear the distress voiced by advocates like Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, admonishing that we must take young people to the land so that they get it, understand the value, and go on to protect and defend it. I can tell you that this group of scholarship winners gets it, boy do they get it, and if we can just stay out of their way, I am confident they will go forth and save the world, the natural world.”

The International Trails Symposium Scholarship Committee was honored to have this opportunity to serve American Trails and the Next Generation of Leadership Youth Scholars. 

Committee members

Amy Camp, American Trails Board
Cate Bradley, National Park Service

Jeff Spellman, City of Phoenix (retired)
Phyllis Ralley, Bureau of Land Management
John Favro, Chairman, American Trails Board of Directors
Candace Mitchell, Symposium Communications Specialist
Sherry Plowman, National Park Service
Crystal Dailey, National Park Service

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Thank You Symposium Sponsors!




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