More Twin Cities kids will get a chance to explore the outdoors and learn about the national park system this summer, as Minneapolis and St. Paul join a short list of cities in a new program with the federal agency that manages public land.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has picked 50 cities to receive funding and volunteer help for their efforts to get young people outdoors.
Minneapolis and St. Paul are among the first 11 communities to roll out the program, which will be launched with a Saturday announcement and service project attended by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann.
The national program is funded in part by a $5 million donation from American Express, and the metro area will see some of that money.
The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities will get $20,000 this year and another $20,000 in 2016, along with a volunteer from the state’s Conservation Corps program.
With the additional help, the YMCA plans to launch a junior ranger program at some of the 17 day and resident camps it operates in the area.
Staff members will get new junior ranger training, camps will get visits from a park ranger, and campers will get to participate in service projects both on camp property and on National Park grounds in the area.
YMCA leaders said the new program also will include opportunities for financial scholarships, as many Y campers come from low-income families.
They said the goal is to expose a wider range of young people to the park system — and the concept of unplugging from phones, tablets and televisions and exploring one’s surroundings.
About 26,000 young people participate in YMCA camps in the Twin Cities each year.
Niall Murton, the YMCA’s day camp and outreach director, said some programs target specific groups of young people, including those from East Africa.
“There’s a definite focus on people of color, and connecting people of color to our national parkland,” he said.
Saturday’s kickoff event will feature a service project at Harriet Island Regional Park in St. Paul.
Federal officials hope that the program will help increase the number of people volunteering in parks and on other public land.