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Who knew that through the connections that one can make as a Hulet Hornbeck Youth Scholarship Recipient at the American Trails International Trail Symposium could find you your dream job?

arrow See Kristen Schulte's article on Summer Stewardship in Yellowstone with Youth Conservation Corps


Youth Scholar follows the mighty Mississippi to a new career

photo of woman paddling of wide river

On the "Mighty Mississippi River" paddling into Hannibal, MO


It's 2,320 miles in length, passing through 10 different states, and famous for Mark Twain's many stories that take place along what we call the "Mighty Mississippi River." When attending the American Trails International Trail Symposium this April as a Hulet Hornbeck Youth Scholarship Recipient I had no idea it would lead me to the Mississippi River in more ways than one. 

It began when I met Bill Bryan, the director of Missouri State Parks at the Symposium. I was introduced to him by an energetic scholarship mentor and within a few minutes of sharing my background in Conservation and Service Corps. Bill invited me to join the Missouri State Parks Youth Corps. I was taken back; I couldn't believe what he was suggesting.

Photo of woman cooking over camp stove

Natalie Warren, cooking pancakes in the morning



After the Symposium I called Bill and continued our conversation. In the months to come a position would be created and offered for me to start as the Missouri State Parks Youth Corps Coordinator, in November.

As a Missouri native and program alumni I was honored and enthusiastic about the job opportunity, but I was hesitant about the move. As I had settled in the wild west living, playing, and working in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. I had found that the mountains were tugging on my heartstrings to stay.

But this is where Natalie Warren, a fellow Youth Scholarship Attendee came into play. When I first met Natalie I was drawn to her like a magnet. Natalie had started a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis called Wild River Academy. Which takes young people out to paddle the Minnesota River, stopping along the route to connect with environmental organizations, farmers, and community members.

This year they announced an expedition: Paddle Forward. Which would start September 18th, and involved 11 young adults paddling the Mississippi River from Isasca, MN to New Orleans, LA. The goal was to connect youth and engage schools in adventure learning, in addition to creating a documentary about watershed communities and their relationship to the Mississippi River. 

photo of big concrete lock on river

Dropping down in a lock — starting from the water line at the top of the wall



Come October 24th, half way through the Paddle Forward expedition they needed a sub-in paddler, for three days. I arrived in Montrose, Iowa to connect with the expedition. Over the next couple of days we would paddled 40 miles in one day, travel along waterfowl and barges, move through locks and dams, and be greeted by warm hearts from river communities.

Up until this point I had never been on the river, it was a place of unknowns and danger. But after this trip I see the Mississippi in a different light. It is as beautiful as those mountains that once tugged on my heartstrings, if not more.

So as I find myself settling back into Missouri, I see the Mississippi as my new playground, a place to explore, and I can say that I don't have a single feeling of hesitant about calling Missouri home.

photo of canoes loaded with gear

All packed up for my first day on the Mississippi River



Who knew that through the connections that one can make as a Hulet Hornbeck Youth Scholarship Recipient at the American Trails International Trail Symposium could find you your dream job, present the opportunity to paddle the Mississippi River, and most importantly aid in falling back in love with your true home.


About the author
A Missouri native, Kristen Schulte’s passion for the outdoors was ignited on a backcountry trail crew while in high school. Ever since this experience, she has dedicated her career to a myriad of organizations that emphasis environmental education while working with youth. During the summer of 2013 she served as the Education Coordinator for the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps piloting her Master’s project, which was the development of the Resource Education curriculum. Kristen also received a Youth Scholarship for training and mentoring opportunities at the 2013 American Trails International Trails Symposium. Recently Kristen became the Missouri State Parks Youth Corps Coordinator.

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