The Udall Foundation's Stewart L. Udall Parks in Focus Program has recently begun to pilot an exciting initiative in Tucson that will introduce up to 120 local youth to nature and photography in 2011 and serve as a model for the program's national expansion.

Since 1999, the Udall Foundation's Parks in Focus program has taken more than 100 middle-school-age youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson on five-day trips to some of Arizona's most celebrated public lands.

Parks in Focus combines tried-and-true photography and environmental education lessons with active, hands-on outdoor adventures - all guided by energetic and knowledgeable young leaders who are alumni of the Udall Foundation's college scholarship program. Since 2006, the foundation has also operated Parks in Focus in several other states; all told, more than 400 kids have participated in Parks in Focus.

Through our new Community Development Initiative, we will greatly increase the impact on underserved youth in Tucson with "bring the outdoors in" to local clubhouses and then getting the kids outside - all during six-week modules at each clubhouse. This education effort includes classroom-style lessons by local naturalists, along with basic photography; day trips to area sites such as Sabino Canyon, Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum; and weekend camping trips to Mount Lemmon, Lake Patagonia and the Chiricahuas.

Parents and siblings participate in the initiative as well through picnics and gatherings. Photo exhibits and other events will involve the larger community.

Ultimately, about three dozen of the kids who participate during the year will be able to go on five-day, four-night trips to the Grand Canyon and nearby parks.

Through all of these activities, the young people take amazing photos. Some of them discover a gift for photography and art; others discover their love of the outdoors.

A photograph truly does speak a thousand words, and to see the images taken by Parks in Focus participants is to experience what they experienced - a new world opened by this simple introduction.

It is particularly fitting for the Parks in Focus program to be named for Stewart Udall, as it exemplifies his vision and ideals. As Interior secretary from 1961 to 1969, Udall oversaw a significant expansion of the national park system and championed conservation issues.

He continued to be an outspoken conservationist and avid outdoorsman until his death at age 90 in 2010.

It is also fitting that the foundation pilot this new initiative in Tucson, where Udall completed his education and began his legal and political career.

We think that he would be proud that his namesake program will help instill a similar appreciation of nature in Tucson youth.

About the Udall Foundation

The Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation is an independent federal agency based in Tucson that has been operating since 1995. It is governed by a presidentially appointed board of trustees and includes scholarship, fellowship and internship programs, as well as the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.

More information

Ellen Wheeler is the executive director of the Udall Foundation.