It’s not every day that normal people like me get to spend time in a state park, although boy do I wish I could. The state of Texas has a total of 95 state parks and each one of them is an individual treasure. This summer I had the incredible opportunity to join a group called the Texas State Park Ambassadors, a stewardship group made up of 18-29 year olds that are passionate about conservation and connecting people to parks.
“At the program’s core, we seek to create a new generation of state park stewards in Texas,” says Tyler Priest, the coordinator of the Ambassador program. Tyler trains three new batches of Ambassadors every year from all around the state and spends a week out in a different state park for each training.
The Ambassadors are a very special group of people. “I love the way our groups experience nature. Whether on a night hike, watching a bat emergence, or star gazing, we often seem to end up in a place of silent fascination as we’re immersed in beauty. Headlamps turn off, and we’re reconnecting to the natural world. I love those moments with our groups,” says Tyler.
If this is your first time hearing about the Ambassador program, let me fill you in. As each Ambassador begins the program, they are paired with a state park that they will then be working with for the next few months. During those months, three projects should be completed with the park; a service project, social media, and outreach. Project examples could range from a trail maintenance day, to a fishing day for kids, to an Instagram photo competition of the park. Most successful projects focus on strengthening the connection between people and the parks. Let me tell you a little bit about why I was drawn to this program and want to continue being involved far in the future.
In the society of nature lovers (informal group-but hopefully you’re in it), I believe that each and every one of us had an experience with nature at some point in our lives that made us realize just how amazing it is. Lucky for me, I got that experience pretty early. Me and all my other pre-school classmates were those crazy kids that spent the day running around in the woods barefoot and usually without a shirt. I marveled at the butterflies that would flutter around me throughout the cedar trees, inspected the forest of daddy-long-leg spiders that would always hang out beneath the deck, and, most importantly, I recognized the interconnectedness of everything around me.
I believe that everybody should have these kinds of experience, not only once or a handful of times, but as a normal part of their lives. My personal goal is to create as many stewards of the environment as possible.
Difficult task? Maybe. Coincidentally, that personal goal falls perfectly in line with the mission of the Ambassadors. The program believes that a passion for protecting nature and wildlife stems from a meaningful interaction with it.Therefore, if we can get people to interact with and care deeply about their nearby park, then maybe they will also care about the bigger picture of environmental stewardship. And that’s the ultimate goal. To further achieve this goal, I am also currently interning with Texas Children in Nature and finishing up a degree in Environmental Science from UT Austin.
Whether or not you become involved in the Ambassador program, I want to invite you to share our mission. I’m going to leave you with one more thought. The natural world is made up of countless circles and cycles, connecting everything together organically. However, in our modern world, we have stepped out of those circles and created rigid boxes, to our own detriment. I invite you to join us in “life outside of the box”. Hop in the circles of nature with us.