Published June 25, 2010, 07:00 AM

Program offers at-risk youth opportunities in nature

The National Park Service (NPS) has announced that it is the recipient of a 2010 America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation for “In a New Light: Connecting At-Risk Teens to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway through nature photography.”

The National Park Service (NPS) has announced that it is the recipient of a 2010 America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation for “In a New Light: Connecting At-Risk Teens to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway through nature photography.”

It’s a partnership project between the Riverway, Northwest Passage, and local arts and educational organizations.

The project will immerse at-risk teens in the beauty of the Riverway as they embark on a photographic journey of discovery, hope and healing. Professional nature photographers empower each participant to tap into their own unique vision, and a production company will enable the teens to document their artistic and emotional journeys.

“Experiencing a place as beautiful and wild as the Riverway can be therapeutic for anyone,” says Ben Thwaits, the Northwest Passage teacher and project leader. “However, creating good photos requires that the kids learn to truly open themselves to nature so they can feel and express its subtle beauty. It’s a process that can be profoundly healing for kids who need it the most.”‘

“Photography is teaching me to see things I never saw before,” says one 15-year-old participant. “There is amazing life all around us, and all you have to do is look.”

Riverway Superintendent Chris Stein remarked, “This project speaks to tremendous power of parks to touch people in profound ways. We know that the people who see these photos will be moved by the images. In the tradition of artists who have inspired preservation of our country’s wild and scenic places, the work of these young adults will be a way for others to connect to and care about this place.”

The project will culminate in a travelling photo exhibit, video chronicle, Web site and blog that will engage wide audiences in an inspiring story of troubled youth who overcame long odds to capture the spirit not just of the Riverway, but also of them and their relationships with the park, on film. The exhibit will open at the St. Croix River Visitor Center in St. Croix Falls, Wis., Sept. 25. After a month-long showing, it will travel to Madison, Wausau, Cable and Spooner. An online blog will be launched along with the kick-off event and a project Web site will be created to complement the travelling exhibit.

Other project partners include Northern Lights Camera Club, Black Iris Gallery and Custom Framing, Black Ice Outdoor Productions, Cable Natural History Museum, UW-Marathon County, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

The project is part of the National Park Foundation’s America’s Best Idea grants, a nationwide program currently underway in 33 national parks.

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