Youth Conservation Program (YCP) was launched in partnership with Grand Teton National Park in 2006 to steward the next generation of conservation leaders—aligning with the core mission of the National Park Service (NPS) to foster a land ethic and an appreciation for the outdoors in young people. This powerful and immersive program employs sixteen to nineteen-year-olds on the park’s trail crew, accomplishing critical stewardship projects while also cultivating job skills and supporting aspiring leaders as they make career and lifestyle decisions.
Isaac is a YCP alum who is passionate about the outdoors and hiking. He had never worked on trails prior to his experience on YCP in 2022, and he was able to leverage what he learned and was hired on Grand Teton's seasonal trail crew for the 2023 summer season. We recently connected with Isaac to learn more about what it was like to be part of YCP and how it impacted his career trajectory.
How did you find out about the Youth Conservation Program?
Isaac: I was nearing the end of my senior year in high school and did not have any plans for the summer. Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to go out west. They suggested that I get a summer job in a national park because that is how they met, working summer jobs at a national park. They told me I would not regret it. I began looking on social media and online job platforms, and I saw a post on Instagram that the Youth Conservation Program in Grand Teton was hiring. I went to the NPS website and applied. May rolled around, and I was offered a position on Grand Teton's YCP that summer. I took the job and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
What was your experience like with the YCP crew at Grand Teton National Park?
Isaac: I was really excited to get started. On the first day of work, and I met the big group of people that I'd be spending my summer with; five NPS crew leaders and then eighteen other kids from all different parts of the country, like California, Virginia, New Mexico, and some locals from Jackson. I got to meet so many awesome people from all around the country.
The work was amazing. It was hard, but when you’re in such a beautiful, awesome place, you don’t really mind the work. I don’t even know how to put into words how incredible it was. My experience in YCP was unreal. We had education days where we would go out with wildlife biologists, archaeologists, and the Jenny Lake climbing rangers. It was a lot of fun getting exposure to the different teams and career paths within the park.
What skills and lessons did you learn from being a part of YCP?
Isaac: I learned so much. The number one skill I gained was how to work with different people with different viewpoints. It was such a diverse group with kids from all over the country. I was able to learn how to communicate ideas on big projects that we were working on, not only being able to provide insight on how to do something, but also learning how to see the other person's perspective and then coming together to create an effective solution.
Trail work is tough work. You get dirty, you get wet, and it can be uncomfortable. Learning that was very valuable to me. YCP taught me how to accomplish challenging tasks, and I will carry those skills with me later into my life and career.
How has YCP affected your career path and future goals? How were you able to turn your experience in the program into a real job?
Isaac: After YCP, I started my first year of college at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. I’m an environmental science major, of course. When November came around, it was time to apply for a job with the park service. I had fallen in love with trail work as a YCP member, so I was dying to go back out there. I prepared my resume, added my YCP experience to it, went on USAjobs, and applied. When January came around, I was offered the job and started getting ready to head back to Grand Teton.
My experience on YCP was how I got job on Grand Teton's trail crew. If I hadn't done YCP, I definitely wouldn’t have gotten the job.
What advice do you have for anyone considering the Youth Conservation Program?
Isaac: Apply. Click that submit button. Just do it if you can and have the opportunity because it’ll be the best decision you ever make. You will meet lifelong friends, learn translatable skills, and get great experience working with the National Park Service.