Mary Ellen's Blog: Celebrate – and Protect – the Great Outdoors All Year Round


June 26, 2014

It’s been a busy few weeks here at The Corps Network - but busy in a great way. As many people in the conservation world know, June is Great Outdoors Month: a celebration of nature and outdoor recreation, as well as a call to action to protect the parks, trails and waterways we love.

The Corps Network recognized GO Month this year by trying something new; hosting a Day of Service right here in Washington, DC. It was exciting to see our partners, as well as Corpsmembers and Corps staff from so many different programs, come together to volunteer. Teams painted fences at the FDR memorial, collected litter along the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River, and readied Fort Dupont Park for new exercise equipment. In other words, we got outside, got our hands dirty, and did a small part to improve the community. Our service symbolized the great things Corps do every day to protect public places.

Out in the Corps world, young people paint, clean and build every day!   They paint outdoor murals and freshen up historic and culturally significant structures. They run recycling operations for large cities. They construct homes, build bridges, and cut new trails in our most beloved parks. Corps programs connect young people with the environment and the community in a way few other experiences can offer. Corps projects are tangible and meaningful, leading Corpsmembers to feel empowered by what they can accomplish. When Corpsmembers work to protect and improve a place, when they spend many hours making a place cleaner and safer, they develop a sense of responsibility for keeping other natural spaces clean and safe, too.  

GO Month is a time to reflect on the way we interact with nature. It’s a time to think about the future of our natural spaces, and consider what we can do to make our relationship with the great outdoors stronger and more sustainable. Working to expand Corps programs is one way we can help ensure that America’s parks and waters stay beautiful and healthy for future generations. 

This Wednesday, as part of the GO Month events, a panel of thought leaders from the conservation world gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss ways to “build the next generation of diverse nature-smart leaders.” As several experts mentioned, Corps are an excellent tool for cultivating the next cohort of conservation champions. The next generation of Americans is largely urban and consists of people representing a huge diversity of cultures, races and ethnicities. Corps programs are important for how they offer all young people the opportunity to get outside and feel ownership over our country’s public lands. While the environmental movement has historically been led by white men, the modern environmental movement includes all of us. Last year, 28% of the Corpsmembers enrolled in programs of The Corps Network were African American; 11% percent were Asian, American Indian or Pacific Islanders; 9% percent identified as “other” and 21% identified as Latino. The next conservationists definitely won’t all be male; 35% of Corpsmembers enrolled in 2013 were women. 

There are only a few days left in June, but we can – and must – celebrate the great outdoors throughout the year. Corps programs certainly work all-year-round, and they absolutely don’t stop for things like rain or snow, but they can’t work without us. GO Month is an excellent way to raise the visibility of conservation issues and promote initiatives like the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps and the 50 for the 50th campaign, but we can’t let this visibility fade. For our parks and our young people, we need to keep the momentum going.