Trees and trees for miles: A city kid learns to love our national parks

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SCA member op-ed, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

March 24, 2012 
By Wanda Murphy / Special to the Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — I often see people settle for good. I would rather strive for great.

That’s what made me join the Student Conservation Association when I was 16 years old. SCA provides summer jobs and year-round internships here in Pittsburgh and across the country, and in 2007 I worked on a local conservation crew over summer vacation.

I didn’t think I’d like it. No one else I knew was doing it. And I really couldn’t see myself going out to pick up trash, plant a garden or build a hiking trail. It would have been more fun hanging out with my friends. But I knew that wouldn’t help me get to where I want to be.

So every morning, I got up early and headed off to Schenley Park. It took a few weeks, but eventually I started to get a feel for SCA. I worked hard but it felt good. I got more confident in myself. I made a lot of new friends. And I learned about nature and why it’s important to protect the environment.

So I decided to stick with it.

I’ve since worked with SCA in other city parks and even camped and built trails in Allegheny National Forest for a month.

A lot of kids couldn’t handle being out in the woods or even working in other neighborhoods, but one of my proudest accomplishments is that I finished every crew I was on. I also attended SCA conferences in Washington, D.C., and Memphis, Tenn. Through these experiences I discovered that it’s better to try than assume you can’t, because if you put your mind to it, you can do anything.

I sure hope so.


This month I participated in the NPS Academy at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. It’s a program to prepare young people of color for careers in national parks. It’s run by the park service and the SCA.

College students from all over the country were there to learn about job opportunities, meet park service staff and get to know the history of national parks, which are almost 100 years old.

I have to say, it’s not my goal to be a park ranger. I’m not majoring in environmental studies or anything close. I’m studying accounting and finance at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

But I do value clean air and water, places where wildlife can roam free and parks where I can find peace and quiet. And if I can apply my finance skills to help a park get the most out of its budget and use taxpayer dollars responsibly and efficiently, then I feel I’ll be doing my part.

I also want to connect with other people who go to national parks and the professionals who work in them. I want to contribute to the natural sanctuaries, historic landmarks and cultural sites that, when you think about it, tell a uniquely all-American story. And I want to be sure that story includes all Americans.


Most people have stopped using the word “minorities” to describe blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic groups, but we are in the minority when you look at who visits national parks. I get really weird looks from my city friends when I tell them I’m going to a national park. They say it’s far away, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do.

I want to help them understand that their heritage — our heritage — is all there in the national parks, from the Great Smokies to Gettysburg.

The NPS Academy was not only an opportunity for me, it’s an opportunity for our country. It shows me that national parks are also striving for greatness, through diversity, inclusivity and by tapping the best people, regardless of color or any other differentiator.

I’m excited about learning about park careers, about interning in a national park this summer with SCA and about returning to Pittsburgh as a park ambassador. I hope my internship will take me to some place where there are trees for miles and miles, with a river running through them and a waterfall at the end of a trail. I hope I get a position that involves my majors, because it would give me good insights into what I plan to do when I graduate. That would be my paradise.

Don’t tell anybody, but my week in the Great Smoky Mountains was my first time in a national park. It feels really good to know that it won’t be my last.

Wanda Murphy is a junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and lives in Hazelwood.

Read the original post in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

First Published 2012-03-24 04:19:47