While many students are gliding into their summer breaks, one rising eighth-grader in California is using the free time to visit National Park Service (NPS) sites in an ongoing quest to help fix longstanding maintenance issues throughout the park system.
Tigran Nahabedian, 13, of Ojai, is the first Buddy Bison Student Ambassador for the nonprofit National Park Trust. He has participated in more than 90 NPS Junior Ranger programs, including becoming the first Junior Ranger Underwater Explorer at Channel Islands National Park in his home state.
In February, Tigran participated in The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Parks and Tech Challenge, a two-day event in San Francisco that brought park enthusiasts together with tech and energy experts, entrepreneurs, project managers, and former NPS employees to brainstorm ideas for leveraging technology to address backlogged repairs and maintenance at NPS sites nationwide.
The challenge was part of Pew’s ongoing efforts to pursue long-term solutions to the backlog, which includes issues such as deteriorating trails and historic buildings, failing sewer and water systems, and crumbling roads. NPS estimates that the cost to make repairs is $11.6 billion, up from $11.3 billion in fiscal year 2016. Much of the disrepair has lingered for years due to unreliable congressional funding for the NPS.
“It is very important for kids to learn about issues facing our national parks, like deferred maintenance,” said Tigran. “Kids can come up with creative solutions to problems, and the first step to fixing issues is knowing the problems. Many kids are already familiar with and care about historic sites like the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the Liberty Bell. Would you want to see these great places fall apart?”
Tigran and his parents drove several hours from their home to bend their brains at the hackathon. The junior ranger brought his vest, which is covered with park badges from the many sites he has explored, and joined a team focused on figuring out how technology can improve the park visitor experience.
In June, Tigran wrote on his National Park Trust blog about why he decided to attend the weekend event. Not many students know what deferred maintenance is, but Tigran explains it well in his post: “Deferred maintenance is like when all the floorboards in your house need to be fixed but you only have enough money to do one room. And while you try to earn more money for the floors, other things start breaking down like your bathrooms or your stove, and the whole time you are trying not to fall into the basement!”
He said kids can join the effort by spreading the word about deferred maintenance, volunteering at beach and trail cleanups, attending ranger-led programs in parks, and sharing what they learn with their peers.
While another team won the challenge, Pew staff and hackathon participants were inspired by Tigran’s love for our national parks, which helped us work that much harder to develop ideas to fix our parks—for all current and future visitors, including Tigran’s generation and those who will follow it.
Marcia Argust directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to restore America’s parks.