Today marks 106 years of the National Park Service (NPS), an American legacy of great conservational foresight. President Woodrow Wilson held this foresight when signing the National Park Service Act on August 25, 1916, creating the NPS as we’ve known for over a century today. But the ideal of conserving U.S. lands for the benefit of the American people is much older.
As Carhartt President & COO Linda Hubbard described it, “Protecting these lands was formed around the purpose of building a better world with and for those people.” There really was no other benefit to it. Instead of stripping America’s most impressive landscapes of their resources, conservation-minded officials began a legacy of preserving landscapes like her native Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. They did so “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” as the Organic Act of 1872 reads; the very act that would create the world’s first national park, Yellowstone.
‘For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People’
This quote is carved atop the Roosevelt Arch, built in and dedicated by Theodore Roosevelt circa 1903, at Yellowstone’s Gardiner, Montana entrance. Before and during his presidency, Roosevelt fought hard for the expansion of the park service. John Muir did the same prior, becoming known as the Father of National Parks through his championing of California’s great national gems. But it was Abraham Lincoln who’s foresight came first as he signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act in 1864, paving the way for the national parks as we know them.
America still houses park champions today. Last year, Carhartt announced they would provide $750,000 to the National Park Foundation (NPF) over the following three years. Under Linda’s guidance, their goal remains much the same: preserve our unparalleled national parks for future generations.
In modern times, this is done through NPF’s great Communities and Workforce initiative, which funds the Service Corps alongside local community and workforce development organizations. Each provides on-the-job training for members, often youths, making a tremendous difference in communities along the way.
The Carhartt Journey Begins at YouthWork’s Headquarters Outside Traverse City
“There isn’t a better partnership that we could think of than the National Park Foundation, and in particular their Communities and Workforce initiative, to really lean into building a better world,” Linda told us as our journey began the morning of August 18.
To witness all of this first-hand, Carhartt invited Outsider up to their native Michigan. With Linda and her team, our group entered the trenches (literally) of NPS’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with the men and women who make our national parks a reality.
“These are the teams who are doing the work to preserve our parks for the next generations,” Linda continued as we gathered in the YouthWork headquarters outside Traverse City. Michigan’s YouthWork is “a perfect example of this,” she adds.
And it absolutely is. YouthWork employs young Michiganders to work inside the state’s NPS sites once they’ve aged out of Michigan’s foster care system. Many come from underprivileged areas, gaining skills, experience, and outright jobs they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. And with full confidence, I can tell you that this specific team, led in the field by Amanda Scott, is the most phenomenal community outreach I’ve seen in conservation.
Linda and Carhartt feel the same, and the YouthWork teams would only impress us further throughout the day. After a tour of their facility and tools led by Scott, our joint excursion with National Park Foundation took shape.
The Rehabilitation of Sleeping Bear Dunes Inn
Up first: the historic Sleeping Bear Dunes Inn. Here we watched as YouthWork teams broke apart an old concrete patio to make way for foundation repairs. Within the Inn and surrounding historic buildings, teens worked directly with professionals on the carpentry necessary to restore both in-and-outdoor aspects of the 19th century standings. And it was nothing but genuine smiles all around as they did.
Many of YouthWork’s participants come up from Detroit. “They were telling me they’ve never seen this part of Michigan before,” Linda recalled of a conversation with Youthwork’s Inn group.
“The things we typically focus our philanthropy on are based around workforce development,” she added. “Especially with YouthWork, which I think is so important, we want to continue to bring people into the concept of working outdoors, especially with skill-trades or working with your hands, to communities that may not have considered that otherwise. Bring it to people who grew up in the city, or who wouldn’t have been exposed to these kinds of job opportunities otherwise.”
‘I’m one of those thousands of visitors; a huge national park enthusiast’
Funding the rehabilitation of NPS parks like Sleeping Bear Dunes is a personal passion for the Carhartt president, too. “I’m one of those thousands of visitors; a huge national park enthusiast,” she smiled at the beginning of the day. “My husband and I and our two sons, for thirty-plus years, have visited national parks as our family vacations. We’ve been all over the country making incredible family memories, swimming, hiking, fishing, and animal watching together.”
But the work National Park Foundation and YouthWork are doing at the Inn and surrounding park with Carhartt’s support hits far closer to home. “I am a Michigander! And the crown jewel of our state’s national park system is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.”
As Linda continued, “It is a phenomenal park.” And it is in phenomenal hands. As we continued on, we met with another YouthWork team helping local operation, City Girl Farms, clear out invasive species from Sleeping Bear Dunes the organic way: with goats.
Here, YouthWork teens worked in tandem with grazing goats to clear out invasive species with a method proven to be both the most effective and environmentally friendly. And there’s always a baby goat on hand to pick up for a cuddle after during a hard day’s work. I can confirm it is most helpful.
Rebuilding the Magnificent Empire Bluff Trail
From there, our teams set out to experience the crown jewel for itself along Sleeping Bear Dune’s magnificent Empire Bluff Trail. The 2.6 mile loop leads to unparalleled views of Lake Michigan along the dunes. But these views were only a bonus.
On our way to the precipice of the trail, we stopped to chat with NPS officials as they worked in tandem with their YouthWork group to rehabilitate the trail after severe rains had rutted out the high-use area. The young men and women were in the thick of every Service Corps task; from learning to operate heavy machinery to rebuilding the trail itself.
Yet no matter how hard the work, every single soul on site shined with a smile that lit up the entire national park. These ear-to-ear grins can’t be manufactured. Whenever we asked a YouthWork member if they’d return to do the same next year, the answer was always the same: “Yes, I want to come back.”
‘The core of this experience is empowering the next generation of our workers and leaders’
As Linda told us at that morning, “We’re here to celebrate the 106th birthday of the National Park Service. And really to celebrate the work of the Service Corps that’s being done. But the core of this experience is empowering the next generation of our workers and leaders. That’s the biggest part of what we want everyone to take away from this experience.”
And take it away we have. Each of us shares a commonality in this venture. “This is a personal passion,” as Linda told me towards the end of the day. “And it being such a natural connection for the Carhartt brand to make, is a big plus. Our customers work outside, but they also love to play outside. It’s all just connected really well, and we’re tremendously grateful to these folks for the work they do. Without them, there’d be no national parks.”