Learning about the NPS

CALUMET TOWNSHIP – Staff at the Keweenaw National Historical Park has been working to get local middle school students involved with the park, and that effort has resulted in a $14,000 grant to support the program.

Kathleen Harter, KNHP chief of interpretation and education, said the park’s Project SISU was a successful applicant for the National Park Foundation’s America’s Best Idea grant.

“We had to compete with other National Park sites,” she said. “Each grant is a unique idea.”

Harter said Project SISU is intended to get Washington Middle School students involved with projects at the park and its Heritage Sites, which are businesses or organizations with some connection to the copper mining era.

The students will be working at the Chassell Strawberry Festival next weekend and at the Italian Hall site in Calumet, Harter said.

Harter said Project SISU started in April and will end in December, and there will be a product created at the completion.

“The end project is to create a cultural map (of the area) geared toward kids their age,” she said.

Harter said the name for the grant was inspired by documentary-maker Ken Burns’ film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

The National Park Foundation is a nonprofit organization created by Congress to raise funds for the National Park Service. In a written statement, Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the NPF, wrote the America’s Best Idea program is intended to connect people, especially youth, to the nation’s parks.

“From experiences that center on history, the environment and even adventure, we are able to capture the imagination of a new generation of park-goers in ways that benefit their lives and the future of parks,” Mulholland wrote.

In the same written statement, Jonathan B. Davis, director of the NPS, wrote the NPF America’s Best Idea grant is helping bring people into the parks.

“It’s our mission to engage visitors from all backgrounds in the diverse stories that we tell in our national parks,” Davis wrote. “Thanks to the support of the National Park Foundation, we can propel that outreach, and engage new audiences that would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience a national park.”

Harter said the America’s Best Idea grant provided funding for transportation, food, overnight camping at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and development of the cultural map.

The BHK Child Development Board is providing busing for the program.

Leading Project SISU were Zoe Lincoln and Bridget Harsch who work for Americorps at Washington Middle School, Harter said.

Also involved was KNHP employee Tara Laase-McKinney. The KNHP Advisory Commission provided some funding and project oversight.

Harter said the plan is to get the students involved with various aspects of park operation, including working at the information desk at the Calumet Visitor Center, but first they have to learn more about the park.

“We’re working on it,” she said.

Although the number of students taking part in the Project SISU fluctuates, Harter said it’s usually about 15.

Another event the students took part in was going on the Michigan Technological University research vessel Agassiz to learn about the effects of mining on waterways and to learn about aquatic ecosystems.

So far, Harter said the students taking part in Project SISU seem to be enjoying it.

“The kids have been so enthusiastic,” she said.