“We can’t change the past, but we can change how long people remember it.” These were the words of 12-year-old Elly Weber as she opened her speech at the conclusion of 2017’s Preserve America Youth Summit in Colorado. Weber was one of 46 students from across Colorado who attended the tenth Coloradoan Preserve America Youth Summit in the Southern Rockies this year.
The programme began in 2007 in Colorado, and was founded by Ann A. Pritzlaff, who soon expanded so that the summits now take place in Texas, New Mexico, and other areas as well as Colorado. These summits, while differing slightly from year to year and place to place, have a common theme throughout: preservation. Students, aged from 12 to 18, who attend these one week summits work towards understanding and advocating for preservation, both historical and natural, almost every minute of the days they spend in the (primarily rural) areas where the summits take place.
These areas change greatly from year to year though, even if rurality is a common theme. In 2011, the Colorado summit was held in Denver, and focused on transportation and infrastructure. Alumni credit summits like that one for sparking interest in city planning and land usage.
The summit held in 2017, contrastly, had a starkly different focus. The team of students began their four-day stream of activity in Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, a beautiful and lesser known area in the Southern Rockies. The monument is notable primarily for its giant fossilised redwood stumps which, dating back around 34 million years, are relics of the completely different climate once present in Colorado. Activities at the Monument and during the rest of the summit centered on natural preservation, and were even more closely tied to the Park Service than usual.
In addition to allowing the Youth Summit to utilise the Florissant Fossil Beds Monument at the start and finish of the camp, the Park Service also paid a large role in the funding of this year’s programme, and those before. Pritzlaff, the summit founder and director, says that the funds raised for the Youth Summits held in the intra-mountainous region are around $250,000 per week, and, along with state preservation and historical organisations, such as History Colorado, the National Park Service makes up a large part of that number. Other sponsors for this year’s summits included Newmont Mines, The History Channel, and the Gold Belt Scenic Byway. Due to those and other sponsors, the 46 students at the 2017 Colorado Summit, as well as attendees of past and future summits across the country, were completely provided for.
The organisation has always run on a scholarship basis. Students apply for the summits and, if accepted, Preserve America and its partners pay for all activities, lodging, food and transportation during the week. For students, this is a wonderful experience, but the summits are also incredibly beneficial to the areas in which they operate. Not only do the summits bring tourism and money to the communities in which they operate, but students are also expected to directly do things to aid these communities.
Even though aspects of the summits differ from year to year and place to place, two things stay the same at every summit: Students perform community service, and the event closes off with a ‘town hall’. This year, students did community service in the town of Cripple Creek, a gambling town North of the summit’s starting point at Florissant National Monument. Groups worked for almost two hours washing windows, sweeping sidewalks, and pulling weeds in and near vacant lots in Cripple Creek, before taking a short tour of the city itself. On the last day of the Summit though, the young preservationists travelled back to Florissant. In the same theatre were they got their introduction to Florissant and to the Gold belt Scenic Byway, they began another tradition of Preserve America Youth Summits, the town hall.
Youth Summits’ town halls are a flip on traditional town halls. Instead of officials accepting questions from the populace, these town halls bring together representatives and change-makers from both the private and public sectors, to ask questions of Colorado’s youth. On July 14th, the final day of 2017’s Colorado Summit, a panel that included representatives from Senators Bennet and Gardner and the regional director of the National Park Service asked questions about preservation, attracting tourism to the area, and youth voice of the Summit attendees. Alumni of the programme and community leaders confirm that the advice students give out in these town halls is taken seriously, and it is for this very reason that change is coming to the Gold Belt and other areas of Colorado.
Those going into any grade between 7th and 12th are eligible to participate in this programme, and those who are interested should go to the Preserve America: Youth Summit website, http://www.preservationyouthsummit.org/