Patrick Nelson, Courtesy of GTNPF
The Best “First Job” In The Outdoor Industry
Find out why these outdoorist teens are lining up to do 10 hours of heavy physical labor a day and why you’ll thank them—and Mountain Khakis and Marmot—later.
It’s 6:00 a.m. on a Tuesday in July. While most teenagers are still sprawled in their beds and snoring away their lazy summer vacations, more than 20 teens in Jackson, Wyoming, are on a bus en route to Grand Teton National Park. Once they arrive, they’ll begin their 10-hour workday.
These 16- to 19-year-olds are part of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation’s Youth Conservation Program. Every summer for 10 weeks, teens from Jackson and all over the country are paid to protect and preserve this iconic national park.
After a 20-minute drive, the bus pulls into the park and the teens hop out to ready themselves for the day’s warm-up routine. Before grabbing their tools and hiking off to work, they spend 30–45 minutes stretching, practicing yoga and doing calisthenics to prepare for the day.
“We encourage the kids to be strong and fit, so that’s part of the program,” says Grand Teton National Park Trail Supervisor Stacy Myers. “It also helps prevent injuries to make sure the kids are stretched out and muscles warmed up.”
Every day is different for YCP crews, who spend their days working on trails and historic sites in the park, restoring structures, improving trails, meeting visitors, and learning all about what it takes to run a national park.
Over the summer, they work with archaeologists, botanists, vegetation crews, search and rescue teams, and even the park’s sound ecologist. A day might involve using cross-cut saws to clear fallen trees from trails, digging up rocks with hand tools, controlling noxious weeds, clearing brush away from buildings or even maintaining the historic Menor’s Ferry.
Every year, they also take a multi-day trip into the backcountry for projects deeper inside the park, where they also learn everything from how to cook in the backcountry to how to bury waste.
Their work plays a crucial role in protecting and preserving the park and prepares them to be good stewards. “For us, the word ‘steward’ is such an operative word,” says Jen Taylor, marketing director for Mountain Khakis, which co-nominated the program along with Marmot to receive a portion of the funds raised during Outdoor Foundation’s annual Outsiders Ball. “As our company and brand’s philosophy, that’s a tenant for us. We believe we must be stewards.”
“For us, the word ‘steward’ is such an operative word. As our company and brand’s philosophy, that’s a tenant for us. We believe we must be stewards.” —Jen Taylor, marketing director for Mountain Khakis
Marmot’s VP of Marketing, Tom Fritz, agrees and highlights the brand’s connection to that corner of Wyoming: “Grand Teton National Park holds a special place in Marmot’s heart. It’s the land of Exum Mountain Guides, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Jenny Lake Boating. [This program] supports necessary work that needs to be done, and the kids in the program learn while they contribute positively to the environment.”
Early in the season, many participants struggle to haul the heavy packs bulging with tools and to put in a full day’s labor, but as the season progresses, something magical happens. What was once a struggle becomes easier, until it’s simply the day’s routine.
Katie Luck, a 2015 YCP participant, says, “I didn’t think I was capable of doing what I was able to at the end of the season.”
The team’s work resonates far beyond the park’s borders. “In a place like Grand Teton National Park, [the teens are] not only giving back to the community, they’re giving back to the entire country and the entire world,” says Noah Robertson, co-founder of Mountain Khakis.
Even after the summer season ends in August, the park lives on in the hearts of the participants. Many return for another season with the YCP team or to work on trail crews, and others find different jobs with the National Park Service or other agencies.
But no matter what they do, the skills they learn in the YCP serve them well. “Leadership, teamwork, and a good work ethic make them successful in life no matter what they do,” says Kim Mills, director of communications and corporate relations for GTNPF. “Many of these kids develop a real stewardship ethic and interest in conservation. People have to care about these places if we want them to survive.”