Project overview: Help teens from underserved California communities connect with nature and build academic skills through the two-year ARC Community Leadership Program, which includes a summer course in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada.

How your support helps: Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) builds bridges between high school students and public lands. Along the way, it engages participants in programming that helps them hone academic, leadership, and stewardship skills. 

ARC works with high schools in California’s Merced and Fresno counties. Most ARC students live in predominantly low-income communities, have limited access to their nearby national park, and are often the first in their families to graduate high school and go on to college. 

By supporting this program since 2011, Conservancy donors have helped ARC provide opportunities for hundreds of students to experience Yosemite and find connection, community, and confidence outdoors. In 2020, donors’ support helped ARC complete the pilot year of its Community Leadership Program, which includes weekend outdoor retreats, in-school workshops, and a monthlong summer course in the Sierra Nevada. The two-year program combines core elements of ARC’s original model into an even more in-depth, engaging, and enduring experience that provides more opportunities for students who might not be able to participate in the summer course due to work or family commitments. Graduates receive a $1,000 college scholarship.  

According to ARC data, 98% of program graduates have completed high school on time and 80% have gone on to college. Post-program surveys show a notable positive shift in students’ sense of appreciation for and connection to nature. Alumni have become park rangers, pursued advanced environmental science degrees, worked with our art team in Yosemite, and more. Several program graduates have even joined the ARC staff.

This year: In 2024, we will mark the 20th year of ARC programming by expanding programs in Firebaugh (Fresno County) and growing our Central Valley program staff by 50%. With your support, we will engage 10 to 12 youth in our 2024 34-day immersive summer course and reach 5,000 program participant instruction hours in Yosemite National Park. Our goal is to engage students for multiple years through a progression of outdoor experiences in Yosemite and beyond.

As part of the Community Leadership Program, up to a dozen ARC students will complete a 40-day summer course, which takes place in Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra Nevada. The program includes outdoor activities, such as backpacking and rock climbing, plus meetings with park staff and lessons on writing, public speaking, and ecology. Throughout the course, students work on poems that blend observations of the natural world with personal experiences. They then present their pieces at a closing celebration. (Check out the story on ARC in our November 2020 magazine (p. 16-17) for a recap of the “Voices of Youth” virtual event, and learn more about ARC on their website!)

Project partners: Yosemite National Park and Adventure Risk Challenge

Sarah Ottley

Executive Director, Adventure Risk Challenge

Project Notes

"ARC develops a community of diverse youth leaders who become advocates for environmental protection and public lands."