Starting in 2010, Partners In The Parks (PITP) Black Canyon and Curecanti has taken between 72 and 90 students on a life changing adventure through the Black Canyon in Gunnison. These honors students experience a week in the parks learning about the history around them and the importance of having National Parks in the world.
This year PITP is offered in 10 National Parks around the nation, with seven of them taking place during the summer time when students are more available for the weeklong programs.
“PITP began as a core idea of LIU Professor Joan Digby, who presented it in a 2006 email to the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) membership. Our goal is to connect college students to National Parks. We want them to go beyond the selfie-taking and absorb the surroundings. Visitors to these parks are now day-tripping, taking the legendary pictures and then leaving. This program challenges that idea,” Thiessen-Reily said.
The purposes of PITP include educating students about the national parks, engaging them in recreational activities that are available in the parks and urging stewardship of these treasured spaces through a lifetime involvement.
PITP adventures address key issues of park management: maintaining trails; tracking wildlife; ensuring the flow of streams and rivers; managing fires; preserving historic and archeological sites; coping with plant and animal disease; protecting nesting birds; educating volunteers and visitors; running weather stations; handling medical emergencies; producing brochures and signage; and providing lodging, campgrounds and food services.
“Students are immersed in all disciplines. Within the parks students engage in sessions with park rangers and participating faculty to learn about everything from fire and wildlife management to nature writing to geology, history and archeology,” Thiessen-Reily said.
“Students participating in PITP complete a service project at the end of the week and this is to give back to the park as volunteers. PITP students have counted prairie dogs, recorded archaeological remains, mapped fire hydrants, uprooted invasive species, cleaned up beaches and built trails,” Thiessen-Reily recalled.
Students who attend the Black Canyon PITP will learn about the canyon’s archeology, geology and history, park resource management, and western water issues while exploring dig sites on top of W Mountain, spotting wildlife, hiking canyon rim trails, touring a dam, and spying galaxies though telescopes.
This summer program is life changing and brings new students to Western who make a difference in the community. This program is offered for three credits for Western Honors students, but they gain more than credits—they gain memories that will last forever and an abiding passion for the National Parks.
Story by Grace Flynn. Photos by Dr. Heather Thiessen-Reily.