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Youth Wilderness Program Underway In Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

National Park News

This summer, Great Sand Dunes is offering an immersive outdoor youth program in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area found within the park and preserve’s boundaries. 

The park invites local middle school and high school students from the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico to “go wild” and participate in the “Ambassadors for Wilderness” program this summer to explore what wilderness is both physically and mentally. With 87% of the park and preserve designated as wilderness, Great Sand Dunes offers remote places which are perfect for learning about wilderness and individual growth.

Daniel Carver, the park’s education technician, and Katherine Faz, acting division chief of interpretation and visitors services, have created a diverse team of instructors to assist with training, mentoring and facilitating activities and discussions on wilderness ethics. These instructors include three former participants acting as student instructors for the two middle school sessions, two “Teacher Ranger Teachers” from local San Luis Valley schools serving as instructors for the high school session and a local college intern serving as an instructor for all sessions.

The program is supported through youth partnership program funding source and small donations from non-profit organizations. The program charges no fees and covers the cost of food, gear, transportation, and entrance fees for all participants. The participant is responsible only for his or her own personal clothing and transportation to the park.  

These journeys go beyond the familiar campground and dunes play area.  Students backpack up to the crest of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and down to remote stretches of the park’s dune field. The remote environment and separation from modern amenities effectively focuses every sensory, physical, and social experience.

National Park Service rangers and VIPs lead participants on three separate backcountry trips. Middle school sessions last five days and the high school session lasts seven days.  Participants interact with professionals in the field working in law enforcement, search and rescue, science, and trails.  Students learn a variety of outdoor and human skills, develop a network of supportive friends and mentors, and add confidence in their skills and abilities, enabling them to be Ambassadors for Wilderness.

Upon completion of the trip, participants receive a disk of all the pictures and videos taken on the trip, with which they can compose an original movie telling the summer’s story in their own words and images. This creative act makes the student eligible for scholarship money, elective credit, or volunteer service hours.  Former participants are also eligible to become student instructors in the program and former student instructors are eligible to apply for a ten week paid summer position at Great Sand Dunes. 

For more information on the Ambassadors for Wilderness youth program, contact Daniel Carver at (719) 378-6351 or via email, You can also visit the park’s website at


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