A Very Special Way Older Americans Can Protect Our National Parks

At a time when technology seems to be around every turn, and high-rises are, well, on the rise, it’s refreshing to escape to a national park to gain some perspective through the beauty of nature. From Arches National Park’s red-rock canyons to the deciduous forest in the Great Smoky Mountains, America’s natural wonders are an incredible gift, and one that needs to be protected.

At Grand Teton National Park, a little beacon of hope for the future of our protected places comes in the form of 12 log cabins. Though nothing much from the outside, the small cottages once housed four pioneers of the 20th-century conversation movement: Olaus, Adolph, Margaret (Mardy) and Louise Murie.

The Murie Ranch, as it is now called, was the home of the Murie family from 1930-2003. The ranch soon became the backdrop for countless discussions about the country’s environmental issues, and a meeting spot for the greatest environmental experts at the time. As President of the Wilderness Society, Olaus spearheaded the 1964 Wilderness Act that defined wilderness and established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which currently protects 109.5 million acres of land.

On a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, you can channel the inspirational spirit of the Muries as you stay on their ranch in Grand Teton National Park for four weeks. In a special arrangement with the Teton Science School, Living and Learning: Discover the Tetons through the Murie Legacy allows older adults to experience what it is like to live on this historic property, described by Olaus Murie as “the heart of American wilderness.”

As you immerse yourself in the great outdoors, you’ll learn how to protect this national park during volunteer service activities throughout the month. But first, you’ll explore the land to gain a deeper appreciation for the wilderness you are working to protect. Hike to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve to discover stunning, glacially carved Phelps Lake and to Coyote Rock, where a local expert will teach you about the region’s wildlife and unique geology.

After learning more about Grand Teton National Park and its effect on the community, spend your time volunteering with an important local organization, such as the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Wetlands Society, US Forest Service and the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation. Depending on the park’s needs, your group project can range from restoration of historic buildings to habitat restoration to citizen science projects, with no assignment being less impactful than the next.

In addition to your group conservation project, you’ll also meet with representatives from multiple nonprofits to hear their stories and learn about the important work they do. They’ll present the volunteer opportunities and you’ll get to pick the project that calls to you most, such as wildflower mapping or studying the impact of climate change on plant communities. There are countless ways to take care of our national parks, and no project is too small.

Throughout the program, enjoy evenings on Mardy’s front porch, where you’ll discuss your unique projects with other members of your Road Scholar program and in the local community. Though you and the other participants may be volunteering with different nonprofits, you all share the same passion that the Muries had for this land – the same passion you are now using to protect it.

Our National Parks are one of the most important assets in the U.S. They protect threatened animals and diminishing landscapes, preserve history and native cultures, allow opportunities for people to be active outside, give an area for respite and inspiration, play a critical role in providing clean air to the community, as well as provide hundreds of thousands of jobs and create billions of dollars in revenue. And although the benefits of our parks are immeasurable, we also understand that it may be hard to find the time to do your part. Living and Learning: Discover the Tetons through the Murie Legacy is a great way to commit yourself to protecting our national parks while learning about their importance to the community. Spend 27 days immersed in the beautiful wilderness with other eager learners who share your love for the outdoors. Together, your impact can help conserve our national parks so they can be enjoyed for countless generations to come.

Want to learn more?

Check out the Teton Science School, or learn more about our Living & Learning program in the Tetons.

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