Inspiring the Stewards of the Future


At Fair Harbor, we're always mindful of our mission to protect the places we love. And those special places range from ocean shores to mountains and forests to city parks and playgrounds. An essential aspect of spreading that message is educating young minds on the importance of caring for the environment close to home. So we sat down with Ivan Levin, director of strategic partnerships and communications at the National Park Trust, to discuss our recent collaborative beach cleanup with Brooklyn 4th and 5th graders and how his organization hopes to engage future generations.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Park Trust. How and why was the National Park Trust founded?

Back in 1983, the Park Trust was founded by a group of individuals committed to protecting public lands, focusing on national parks. The National Park Trust initially grew as a program to help the National Parks Conservation Association purchase privately owned lands to complete the parks. However, there was such growth in that area that the National Park Trust became its own entity out of the National Parks Conservation Association in 1990.

It's kind of cool to think that even back then, the idea of protecting parks was so essential, and the need was as great then as it is now. Of course, we're still as relevant, and there's just as much work to do now as in 1990. But that's why the National Park Trust was initially started—passionate people who want to protect parks and create the park stewards of the future.

Speaking of the stewards of the future, how did the joint Fair Harbor and National Park Trust cleanup in Plumb Beach, Brooklyn, go? Our co-founder, Caroline, who joined the event, said the local 4th and 5th graders were very engaged.

The event went very well! Approximately 100 kids picked up about 15 contractor-size garbage bags full of single-use plastic, glass, and food/drink garbage. The kids were shocked at how much trash there was to clean up.

The event was the perfect cap for a series of engagements for these specific kids. They have been the different parts of Gateway National Recreation Area this year, but this was the first stewardship project. They were really able to connect the dots between fishing at Canarsie Pier, which they had done a few weeks prior, to why it is important to keep the beach/water clean at Plumb Beach.

It is essential to show kids how humans impact the environment so that they can see it first hand, remember and learn from that experience, and take it home with them to share with others and change behaviors for a lifetime. Making these connections now, especially for 4th and 5th graders, is when we can create lifetime positive environmental habits and choices.

Tell us a little bit more about your Buddy Bison program and how we can teach younger people to be future stewards of outdoor spaces and public lands.

The goal of the Buddy Bison program is to work with Title I schools [schools with high numbers of children from low-income households] and underserved communities across the country to engage them deeply with local parks and outdoor spaces. We work exclusively with Title One schools across the country to provide supplemental materials to teachers and classrooms because parks can teach science and social studies– everything from the food web and ecosystems to civil war history– and even subjects that are difficult to teach.

Our national parks can expand lessons in the classroom. The Buddy Bison program works with those schools to provide materials, experiences, and opportunities to get into local parks, funded by the National Park Trust. Through the Buddy Bison school program, students can learn about health and wellness as well as outdoor recreation and steward work supporting these communities, who often don't have the same opportunities, in breaking down barriers to engage with the outdoors.

Speaking of outdoor spaces, what are some ways we as individuals can help support the preservation of national parks?

People think that our parks are complete. The general public tends to take public lands and waters for granted, and they forget that these places need to be protected and that everyone can make a difference in their own way. It's so helpful to get involved in preservation and conservation projects to acquire those missing pieces in or near national parks.

Any way that we help grow the acreage of protected land so that it can be preserved forever—whether in our communities or on a national scale in our national parks. We have done 65 projects in 52 national park sites across the country, which has netted out to a 32.5 million value of lands donated to the National Park Service. I think those numbers are really meant to reflect a vast need. The work that we've done is only such a small slice of the pie that's still left to do. Everyone can make a difference, and there's much more to do.

Can you advocate for more public lands for people to enjoy in your local community?

People can advocate for green spaces and laws from a local to a national level. On that note, it's as essential in your backyard, neighborhood, and community as it is from a national standpoint to ensure significant natural and cultural stories are being kept and told. That, again, happens on a local grassroots level as well as the state, national, and federal levels. It affects all of us on a day-to-day basis.

Take a moment to look around and consider what spaces there are around you and your community and are there enough? Unfortunately, many communities still have little access to green space and only have their window sill or porch to engage with the outdoors. How can we even use those outdoor spaces to connect people? We are here to assist with park preservation and help communities build relationships with the outdoors.

It's something we think about at Fair Harbor: how we can be mindful of our communities and how to partner with and support organizations like the National Park Trust to continue protecting the places we love.

Fair Harbor and the National Park Trust have seen firsthand how parks are threatened. Just last spring, we hosted an excellent beach cleanup with Fair Harbor at Gateway National Recreation Area, in Brooklyn, with over 60 students from P.S. 119, who picked up countless bags of garbage. Gateway is one of those parks that gets a lot of attention due to the urban environment that it's situated in. Conservation is important in keeping those spaces safe and clean for everyone to enjoy.

Thank you, Ivan and the National Park Trust. We are excited to continue building on our partnership and can't wait for our next cleanup together!