Often, really good things start with just an idea, an opportunity, or a challenge accepted. Yet, growing from good to great is more about setting your sights on a plan and leaning in to the time and excitement needed to make it all happen. NFF’s youth engagement programs have mirrored this approach, where we focused in on a need identified at a community level, leveraged local partnerships to get something started, and then really dug in to grow the impact and the connection needed to reach today’s youth where they are at (whether rural or urban) – honoring their needs and interests – and ultimately finding ways to bring the value of National Forest stewardship to each unique program and participant.

Today we are grateful to share in this power of partnerships and celebrate the success (and subsequent growth) of NFF’s-supported youth program in southeastern Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. In 2016, the NFF recruited four Tlingit high school-aged youth from Angoon, a remote village of 459 people on Admiralty Island. Despite having grown up on the island, none of the young tribal members had paddled a kayak, been hiking, or had slept in a tent.

“I’ve never spent this much time outside in a single day,” remarked one of the participants.

Through this program, the participants camped in wilderness, learned outdoor skills, and conducted important conservation work. The youth also identified and recorded cultural sites, improved hiking trails, and removed marine debris from the shorelines of the Tongass.

Youth from the Village of Angoon developed skills to kayak and explore their ancestral homeland through the NFF funded youth program.

Since then, youth engagement across Southeast Alaska has gained tremendous momentum and expanded from just one village to four. Working with the Forest Service and local organizations like Spruce Root, the program is now collectively called the Alaskan Youth Stewards, and engages Alaskan Native and rural youth in connecting to and restoring areas across the Tongass National Forest.

Spruce Root

Courtney James of Kake records a copy of her Grandmother headstone at Grave Island on the Tongass. The island is home to the Village of Kake’s cemetery.

In recognition of the program growth and of successful partnerships, NFF’s Pacific Northwest and Alaska Director, Patrick Shannon, was recently awarded the Forest Service’s Region 10 Regional Forester’s Partnership Award in his role as part of the Alaskan Youth Stewards Steering Committee which was instrumental in growing the youth program.

“We are thrilled to see this program grow and thrive each year,” said the Forest Service’s Regional Forester Dave Schmid. “Connecting youth to public lands is a core value we hold dear. We look forward to seeing this program continue to support our rural and tribal youth for many years to come.”

The value of stewardship and generational leadership is woven into the fabric the Alaskan Youth Stewards Program – and of every NFF Youth Program.

These connections serve as the platform to ensure equality of access, to build 21st century skills, leadership and values associated with stewarding our National Forests, and to develop a new generation of public land professionals, stewards, ambassadors and champions.

Learn more about NFF youth programs across the United States here.

Spruce Root

Youth from the Village of Kake improve a trail on Grave Island on the Tongass.

National Forest Foundation