NPS Academy Grand Teton: Breaking barriers, affirming future plans

Written by Evan Escamilla, SCA alum ‘10 and ‘11 and current SCA recruiter.

What an amazing couple of days it has been here in the Tetons! From Sunday, March 4th to Saturday, March 10th, a diverse group of students from all over the country descended upon Grand Teton National Park for the launch of the NPS Academy, a joint program by SCA and the National Park Service, aimed at building “a 21st century workforce for America’s national parks: highly motivated, contemporarily skilled and ethnically diverse.”

And what a week it was! The students were inspiring and inspired; The scenery was breath-taking; the wildlife awing…and a bit too close at times.NPS Deputy Director of Communications and Community Mickey Fern’s quote during one of the panel sessions captures how most people felt during the week, “Thank you for inviting me. It’s been the best four days of my life since I joined the park service.”


A group photo of NPS Academy 2012 members at Grand Teton National Park. This week marked the beginning of a personal and professional adventure for most of these students.

A bull elk at the National Elk Refuge from the horse drawn sleigh ride tour. The National Elk Refuge feed 5,000 - 7,000 elk at any given day this time of year. Elk come from as far as 70 miles away in Yellowstone to be fed. This controversial practices has been going on for 100 years as a way to manage the elk in search of food from coming into Jackson Hole. The elk have lost 75% of their habitat to humans.

Two bull elk engage in social clash of their antlers. As it is not yet mating season, there is no need for these elk to engage each other in a battle using up their energy. This bull elk were playfully wrestling with their antlers.

A heard of 50+ bison met us on the road after tubing. The students were all in the 3 vans behind me. I heard some bison even rubbed up against one of the vans! One students said he was almost moved to tears at the sight of this heard with the Tetons in the background. For everyone this was a highlight of the day. I rolled down my window and grabbed these from the driver seat of my vehicle. Most of us laughed slack jawed in amazement.

Snow tubing at Snow King in Jackson Hole after spending some time walking around town.

Would you believe the students all look this awake and enthusiastic at 10:00pm after a packed day of engaging activities.

NPS Academy facilitator and past NPS superintendent Gerard Baker wore his bear coat and coyote hat to the campfire at the Murie Center. He spoke of his family and the history of his native american people the Mandan-Hidatsa Indian. He was featured in the PBS special on National Parks - though he has since retired.

With a fire in the fireplace and wood stove, we all gathered around Burton Pretty on Top, Cultural Director of the Crow Tribe, huddled close on couches, chairs, and the floor as a family. Mr. Pretty on Top shared stories of serving your neighbors, treating others with respect, honoring your culture and ancestry and gave us the great honor of praying for each one of us individually.

The energy and emotion in the room was palpable. Members of the academy volunteered one by one to share their thoughts and feelings with the group. This group of strangers, just 5 days before, each experienced this week uniquely. One by one, as members volunteered to share their thoughts and feelings, I learned that for some this week represented an inspirational oasis from life’s challenges. It brought altering or affirming emotions towards past decisions and future plans. Over and over I listened to stories of barriers being broken down as students stepped out of their comfort zone and into the camaraderie of their peers.