Teenagers from across Minnesota converge on Voyageurs for week on the water

Teen Ambassadors explore Voyageurs National Park. (Photo by Carly Rundle-Borchert, Wilderness Inquiry)

The award-winning program that brings Minnesota teenagers to Voyageurs National Park completed its seventh summer program last week. Twenty high school students from all over the state spent the week exploring the park on its northern border.

The goal of the Voyageurs National Park Teen Ambassador program is to introduce more young people to the park, especially those who might not otherwise have the ability to visit. All participants receive a full scholarship, which helps remove financial barriers, thanks to funding from Nature Valley, the National Park Foundation, and Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA). The program is a collaboration between VNPA, the National Park Service, and Wilderness Inquiry.

Participants go home empowered to share the experience with their classmates and other community members, and motivated to help protect public lands.

“If you can remember your first night camping under the stars or your first time swimming in one of Voyageurs National Park’s lakes, you know how important it is to give a new generation of kids access to these experiences,” said Christina Hausman Rhode, VNPA’s executive director.

(Photo by Carly Rundle-Borchert, Wilderness Inquiry)

This year’s participants came from 15 high schools, ranging from the Twin Cities to Grand Marais. They spent five days paddling and camping in the park, with numerous chances to interact with staff and others.

The students not only roasted marshmallows and slept under the stars, but also talked to scientists, rangers, and others involved in managing the 239,000-acre park. They rode on the park’s tour boat to see eagle nests and the Ellsworth Rock Garden, slept in tents, and discussed their experiences around the campfire each night.

“We had a great group of teen ambassadors this year,” said Lindsay Brandt, AmeriCorps VISTA Outreach Coordinator at VNPA. “Watching them make friends, learn about the park, and grow as people during their short trip was nothing short of amazing. We need new environmental leaders like them to ensure that places like Voyageurs are here forever.”

One camper reflected: “I was laying down on the rocks with a few people. We were silent, not talking. It was really calming and relaxing. The sun was going down… I never really have quiet time unless I’m by myself at home, but then I usually have music on or I can hear the noise of the neighborhood. I’ll have to get used to that again.” (Courtesy Wilderness Inquiry).

The group will reunite later this summer for a canoe trip on the Mississippi River, and a civics workshop intended to help them use their voices to speak up for special places such as Voyageurs. The workshop will be led by the National Parks Conservation Association, helping the Ambassadors translate their personal connection into messages that can influence public officials and community leaders.

On the third day of the trip, the young people spent about 20 minutes sitting by themselves, observing their surroundings and writing either free-form or a short haiku poem. Below are samples of what they wrote:

“As I breathe in the air
The simple ways of nature
Calm my anxious soul.”

“When I look out into the far end of the other side it makes me not want to leave this place forever. It reminds me of my home back in Ethiopia. It gives me hope to go back one day and visit my motherland.”

Read Wilderness Inquiry’s full report from the trip here.

At the end of the trip, the teenagers took the Junior Ranger pledge and went home inspired to explore more of Minnesota’s natural resources and public lands, and advocate for their protection.



Voyageurs National Park Association: National Park Teen Ambassador Program

Explore Voyageurs National Park


Watch a video about the Teen Ambassadors program created in 2014:


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