REI Funds Modern ‘New Deal’ Conservation Corps

A $1 million investment by REI bolsters a program to get veterans, urban kids, and at-risk youth working within U.S. National Parks.

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Arizona Conservation Corps crew taking a break from building trail in the Grand Canyon. Photo credit: Bryan Struble

The $1 million donation matches the largest ever to the program, and is the largest by an outdoor industry brand. It’s set to fund the 21st Century Conservation Corps, or 21CSC, in partnership with the Department of the Interior, and REI notes 19 projects in national parks across the country, including Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Olympic, and Rainier.

We reached out to Eugenie Bostrom, a director with 21CSC, to get background on the announcement and learn more about the Corps. Arising out of America’s Great Outdoors Initiative in 2010, the 21CSC is a joint venture of public and private organizations that supports a network of more than 30,000 members across the U.S. working to preserve and improve the outdoors.

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Conservation Corps touts participants are ‘wholly engaged, building a personal investment in the outdoors through serving, working… and learning for extended periods of time.’ Photo credit: Conservation Legacy

The projects funded by the REI donation will help 21CSC reach its goal to employ 100,000 young, urban, at-risk Americans and veterans in municipal, state, and national lands.

According to Bostrom, REI outlets have given to local conservation corps chapters for years, with a total dollar amount that far exceeds $1 million. The lump-sum donation this week from REI will further provide much-needed visibility and prominence to conservation efforts happening throughout the 21CSC network.

Civilian Conservation Corps Of Today

The CCC of nearly a century ago built lodges, hiking trails, roads, stairs, and other infrastructure in parks around the U.S., much of the organization’s work is still visible (and in use) today.

The 21CSC is a national initiative that builds on those efforts. Working with organizations like AmeriCorps, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency, it supports local, state, and tribal programs that provide conservation training, education, and employment for young Americans and veterans.

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Veteran’s Fire Corps participant performing wildfire mitigation. Photo credit: Conservation Legacy

The difference between Conservation Corps and typical environmental programs? The organization says its participants are “wholly engaged, building a personal investment in the outdoors through serving, working, recreating and learning for extended periods of time, from 4 weeks to 1 year.”

The projects focus on trail maintenance and construction. Some programs promote outdoor and social justice education, thanks to a partnership with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative, by increasing the presence and involvement of persons of color within parks.

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Ancestral Lands Crew takes a break from work to take in the view. Photo credit: Conservation Legacy

The announcement is part of larger push by REI to align itself with the National Park Service centennial and integrate its customers and members with enhanced park experiences and specially branded REI products that give 10 percent back to the parks.

Along with NPS’s own ongoing promotion of its 100-year anniversary, REI hopes to attract more visitors to parks across the country and engage them with interactive media, a crowd-sourced, “living” guide to lesser-known parks, and a stories-from-the-parks podcast series, dubbed “Mileposts.”

Earlier this year, REI gave more details on the “multi-year, multi-million-dollar” partnership with the National Park Foundation it announced. Expect more initiatives and incentives to visit the national parks throughout 2016.

Interested in applying for one of the 21CSC conservation and education projects? Visit the 21CSC page for more info.

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.

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