Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
They love their jobs! The foresters, wildlife biologists, recreation specialists, hydrologists, archeologists, wildland firefighters, engineers, park rangers – just to name a few who have careers working in the outdoors. These positions can be with state or federal agencies, tribal governments, nonprofits, or environmental consultants. Why do these professionals enjoy their jobs so much? They are working for the great outdoors with a mission of managing our natural resources and providing quality recreational experiences for the public.
So, how do you get one of these careers? It’s never too early to plant the seed in our young people to let them know that these jobs are out there. Elementary school field trips can be the first exposure many children have to learn from resource specialists about the natural landscapes near them. This could be a winter field trip to the Grand Mesa to learn about snow science and where our water comes from, a ranger-led hike in the Black Canyon to learn about geology and native species, or a tour of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park to learn about the lifestyles of indigenous peoples. Students get to see these professionals in action and get a taste of what their jobs might entail.
All 6th graders in the D-51 school district participate in the Outdoor Wilderness Lab (OWL) where resource specialists lead them through various hands-on activities designed to give them a glimpse of ecological concepts at work during a three day workshop in Gateway, Colorado. Fourth graders in Montrose County School District participate in a one day natural resource festival where they are introduced to various natural resource concepts such as groundwater models, Colorado River flow issues and more. Delta County 6th graders participate in Cottonwood Days in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area focused on teaching kids about “Leave No Trace” principles, native plant and animal species, aquatic organisms and how all of them are connected through the web of life. Through these festivals and workshops, students interact with specialists passionate about sharing their expertise. Coupled with family day hikes, car camping, fishing excursions and backpacking trips, kids get to test the waters on adventures with friends and family, and get a comfortable feel for being outdoors.
Other opportunities to encourage an interest in science, nature and outdoor adventures are available through volunteerism and internships. Youth learn some intangibles like leadership, teamwork, communication, environmental stewardship and civic engagement, as well as various skills like trail building, invasive species removal, tree planting, maintenance, construction, fence building, habitat improvement, community clean ups, and mentoring younger kids. These types of programs can be a pathway to an interesting seasonal job and eventually a fulfilling career.
Through volunteering and internships young people have a platform to show their initiative, and desire to work hard as a team player. These are key characteristics employers are looking for in potential job candidates during hiring events. Working as a volunteer or intern is a chance to gain experience and start building references for future jobs. Ultimately many of the resource science jobs require a degree in natural resources, but there are some positions in these areas that do not require an advanced degree.
Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) has developed a list of various summer volunteer, internship and even paid summer jobs with links to the organizations providing these opportunities for our youth—visit outdoor-jobs-for-teens. Now is a great time to plant the seed, do the research and make the contacts to find the outdoor experience for the summer.
Here are some ideas to give you a snapshot of what opportunities are out there:
Most city recreation districts hire high school students as assistant counselors for summer camps, after school programs, swim aides and life guards. Age requirements vary but generally start at 16 years of age. Check the website of your local parks & recreation department, because they are starting to hire now.
EUREKA! McConnell Science Museum welcomes volunteers from 5th graders to adults. Student volunteers help clean and maintain exhibits, socialize animals and help younger students in the museum. Volunteers are also welcome to be Monument Stewards, a volunteer restoration group that meets weekly at the Lunch Loops, helping with various tasks such as maintaining transplants of native plants, pulling weeds and more. Monument Stewards is facilitated by Colorado West Land Trust and EUREKA! McConnell Science Museum. Information on these two programs can be found on their website.
Are you into mountain biking? Little Bellas’ success is powered by inspiring mentors that are passionate about riding. This is an incredible network of outdoor-oriented, fun women who are truly the heart and soul of Little Bellas! Junior mentors (high school students ages 14-17) and mentors (women ages 18+) are needed to help encourage young girls wanting to learn how to ride mountain bikes.
Southwest Conservation Corps hires Youth Conservation Crew Members as part of a day crew or camping crew for high school students ages 14-18 who want to gain more skills and are interested in working outdoors serving their communities. These are paid positions, with a time commitment of 32-40 hours per week. Currently crews with this organization work out of Salida and Durango.
Riverside Education Center- hires former students as recreation camp counselors, and tutors. Tutors work during the school year and counselors work with youth outside during the summer camps. Check their employment webpage for details
For those teens passionate about horses, the Grand Valley Equine Assisted Learning Center has volunteer opportunities for those interested in a variety of roles such as side-walk during therapy sessions, leading horses, helping to set-up and organize fundraising events, and more. Contact them at GVEALC@gmail.com for more information.
For a career in wildland fire, get the basic training and certifications you need close to home. The Collbran Job Corps Center and the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest will be hosting a basic wildlife fire certification course (S-130/190) Feb 28- March 4. This will be partly virtual and partially on-site. (Ages 18-37). If you would like more information email: email@example.com.
The Wildland Fire Training Center in McClellan, California also offers a Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program (ages 18-37). This program develops the knowledge and basic skills necessary to work as a wildland firefighter. Selected applicants will attend a 3,000 hour on-the-job learning program, which includes a two month-long residential firefighting academy.
One way to get involved in an outdoor experience is to volunteer on a stewardship project as a family. Volunteers for Outdoors Colorado- motivates and enables people to be active stewards of Colorado's natural resources. Throughout the year, various groups such as the Grand Valley Trails Alliance, mountain bike groups (COPMOBA), and the Grand Mesa Nordic Association host work days to build, or maintain trails. These are good events to see if your teen is really into this kind of work.
Some early interactions with nature, or a few awesome outdoor experiences, could be the spark that triggers your child’s interest in the outdoors. This could be just the thing that helps shape their character, build a work ethic and expand their interests, which could lead to a future career in the great outdoors!
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