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Grant Award Received For Program For At-Risk Teens

Saint Croix National Scenic River

National Park News

The National Park Service has announced that it is the recipient of a 2010 America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation for "In a New Light: Connecting At-Risk Teens to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway through Nature Photography," an innovative partnership project between the park, Northwest Passage, and local arts and educational organizations.

The project will immerse at-risk teens in the beauty of the riverway as they embark on a photographic journey of discovery, hope, and healing. Professional nature photographers will empower each participant to tap into her or his own unique vision, and a production company will enable the teens to document their artistic and emotional journeys. 

“Experiencing a place as beautiful and wild as the Riverway can be therapeutic for anyone,” says Ben Thwaits, the Northwest Passage teacher who serves as the project leader.  “However, creating good photos requires that the kids learn to truly open themselves to nature so they can feel and express its subtle beauty. It’s a process that can be profoundly healing for kids who need it the most.”   

“Photography is teaching me to see things I never saw before,” says one 15-year-old participant.  “There is amazing life all around us, and all you have to do is look.” 

“This project speaks to tremendous power of parks to touch people in profound ways,” said Chris Stein, the park’s superintendent. “We know that the people who see these photos will be moved by the images.  In the tradition of artists who have inspired preservation of our country’s wild and scenic places, the work of these young adults will be a way for others to connect to and care about this place.”

The project will culminate in a travelling photo exhibit, video chronicle, website, and blog that will engage wide audiences in an inspiring story of troubled youth who overcame long odds to capture the spirit not just of the Riverway, but also of themselves and their relationships with the park, on film.  The exhibit will open at the St. Croix River Visitor Center in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, on September 25th.  After a month-long showing, it will travel to Madison, Wausau, Cable, and Spooner.  An online blog will be launched along with the kick-off event, and a project website will be created to complement the travelling exhibit.

Other project partners include:  Northern Lights Camera Club, Black Iris Gallery and Custom Framing, Black Ice Outdoor Productions, Cable Natural History Museum, UW--Marathon County, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

The project is part of the National Park Foundation’s America’s Best Idea grants, a nationwide program currently underway in 33 national parks which seeks to connect youth and other underserved audiences to parks.  Inspired by the epic Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, the NPF, in partnership with Unilever, has awarded grants totaling roughly half a million dollars.  Additional support for the America’s Best Idea grants is generously given by The Ahmanson Foundation and other donors to the National Park Foundation.

With locations in Frederic, Webster, and Spooner, Northwest Passage offers comprehensive residential mental health services to youth, with the aim of restoring dignity, emotional wholeness, and a renewed sense of self-worth.  Northwest Passage II, the Spooner facility participating in this project, specializes in nature-based experiential programming for boys ages 12 through 17.   



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