Project overview: Partner with youth-serving organizations to help Bay Area middle school students connect with nature and public lands through digital photography, hikes, and camping trips. Parks in Focus is a Udall Foundation program.

How your support helps: Photography helps people see nature in new ways. With a camera in hand, you can zero in on a butterfly wing or see patterns in a vast landscape of mountains and valleys, noticing shapes, colors, and textures that wouldn’t otherwise catch your eye. And slowing down to frame a shot can create space for other senses to pick up the drumbeat of a distant woodpecker or the scent of fresh sap.

For participants in Parks in Focus, cameras become a core tool for observing, learning about, and experiencing nature. Through its long-running “Yosemite in Focus” effort, Parks in Focus works with San Francisco Bay Area youth organizations to help middle schoolers explore and learn about the outdoors through photography. Support from Yosemite Conservancy donors during the past decade has helped more than 230 students spend time in the park through this innovative program.

Parks in Focus helps kids feel comfortable and empowered outside, while giving them space to express their creativity. Most Parks in Focus middle schoolers are students of color, who are underrepresented in Yosemite. After going on introductory outings to local Bay Area parks, the students head to Yosemite for a five-day summer camping trip. For many participants, a Parks in Focus trip is their first time hiking, camping, or visiting a national park.

Throughout their time in Yosemite, students use digital cameras as a tool for creativity and outdoor exploration, whether zooming in on colorful insects and speckled granite, turning the lens up to capture a towering pine, or framing a sunset shot of Sierra peaks from Sentinel Dome. They also meet with rangers and photographers, tour The Ansel Adams Gallery, and complete service projects, such as planting pollinator-friendly flowers in Valley meadows. Afterward, students have the chance to see their work in a slideshow, in a calendar, and displayed on gallery walls through special exhibits in Yosemite Valley and at Bay Area venues.

This year: In 2023, your gifts will provide free Parks in Focus programming for up to 36 middle schoolers from three Bay Area youth organizations. As in past years, this summer’s activities will include local hikes, camping trips in Yosemite, and post-trip photo exhibitions. With your support, students will receive their own digital cameras, which they’ll use to capture observations outside, as they explore their surroundings and learn about environmental stewardship. The Parks in Focus team will also create and share a “Yosemite in Focus” activity book with Yosemite-specific photography activities for kids, and they will offer trainings on their proven curriculum to park staff and volunteers.

Read our “Growing Heroes” blog post from 2017 for a behind-the-scenes look at a Parks in Focus summer in Yosemite.

Project partners: Yosemite National Park, Udall Foundation, Western National Parks Association, The Ansel Adams Gallery, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, Real Options for City Kids, and Sequoia YMCA.

Laura Goforth

Interpretation and Education, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

“Parks in Focus connects middle school youth from underrepresented communities to nature and our national parks through photography and outdoor learning. ... Thanks to the support of Yosemite Conservancy, we have been able to sustain and improve our annual Parks in Focus program at Yosemite each summer since the program's inception in 2010.”