Project overview: Encourage diverse California high schoolers to learn about and champion the environment, through online lessons, community-based projects, and park-focused career exploration.

The backstory: WildLink, a long-running partnership between NatureBridge and the National Park Service, is dedicated to helping teenagers from traditionally underserved California communities — mostly students of color, who are underrepresented in Yosemite — access, experience, and build lasting relationships with public lands.

Yosemite Conservancy donors have supported WildLink almost every year since the program launched in 2000. During the past two decades, WildLink has served more than 1,500 students, including through more than 100 outdoor expeditions and 75 stewardship projects. Ten program alumni have gone on to careers in the National Park Service.

Traditionally, WildLink participants connect with the natural world in a variety of ways, including through:

  • Five-day backpacking expeditions in the Yosemite Wilderness, during which they learn outdoor skills and help rangers with restoration activities.
  • Community-based ambassador projects, through which they apply what they’ve learned in the park to stewardship work and educational presentations back at home.
  • Family weekends in Yosemite, which give participants the chance to share their park-based learning experiences with loved ones.
  • Career Connection, a two-week program in Yosemite open to WildLink alumni that serves as an introduction to park-based careers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person group learning in 2020, the WildLink team adjusted their approach to offer online activities. Whether on the ground or online, each element of a WildLink experience helps participants develop and share an appreciation for outdoor spaces and become active stewards and champions of the natural world, both in parks and in their communities.

This year: In 2022, your gifts will help WildLink partner with nine California schools to provide free programming to as many as 90 students. Building on lessons learned in 2020 and 2021, WildLink leaders are adapting the program model to accommodate remote learning as needed, so students, their teachers, and their families can learn about Yosemite and other outdoor spaces from home or school, if in-person group activities aren’t feasible.

To ensure students can have valuable nature-based experiences no matter where they are, the WildLink team will create hiking plans and plant identification keys tailored to each partner school. Participants will complete stewardship projects in their home communities, and NatureBridge and NPS educators will lead lessons on topics including environmental and racial justice, climate change, and the history of parks and wilderness. The team also plans to bring students on expeditions in Yosemite in the summer and fall, if safe, and to help alumni explore job pathways through a Career Connection experience.

Learn more about WildLink on the NatureBridge website.

Project partners: Yosemite National Park and NatureBridge.

Lissie Kretsch

Wilderness Education Coordinator, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

“It is our collective opportunity and responsibility to provide programs that continue to bring and connect an accurate representation of California’s population to the parks.”