Despite frost and freezing night-time temperatures, 10 middle school students from Redwood City had an amazing time exploring and photographing fall colors and scenes in Yosemite in fall.

Parks in Focus®, a program that connects middle school youth from under-served communities to nature through photography and outdoor learning, has worked with Sequoia YMCA for 4 years in a row to facilitate opportunities for Bay Area youth to visit, explore, and photograph Yosemite National Park. In partnership with Parks in Focus, the Udall Foundation, the Yosemite Conservancy, and generous Y donors, Sequoia YMCA was able to provide these 10 students a cost free, once in a lifetime camping trip to Yosemite National Park.

From seeing Half Dome, to a sunset hike up Sentinel Dome, this program offered youth a chance to explore the outdoors and learn photography skills. “Many of our local youth have never had the opportunity to explore our national parks or experience sleeping outdoors,” said Julie Wesolek, executive director of Sequoia YMCA. “We are proud to be able to partner with Parks in Focus® to provide amazing opportunities that foster resiliency and a love for the outdoors. The focus on photography and conserving our public lands is the icing on the cake.”

Working alongside park rangers and professional photographers, the teens sharpened their photography skills while hiking and taking in stunning views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.

In addition to capturing breathtaking photos, the teen participants and staff joined in a stewardship project to help keep Yosemite safe and beautiful. They helped restore native plant habitat by weeding plants that do harm to the park, as well as planting new plants in areas that were destroyed due to cars driving over them and people hiking off trails through them. The teens were sworn in as Junior Rangers a culminating ceremony.

Sebastian, Age 11, describes, “This was a great experience, the best trip I’ve ever been on. It was great to figure out how to make food without a kitchen and learn how to use shadowing to make my photograph stand out.”

Generous support from the Yosemite Conservancy, participants were able to keep their digital cameras as an opportunity to continue their photographic explorations.

Picture 1: Kid taking photo & Picture 2: sunset

Photo highlights from their adventures are displayed at the Ansel Adams Gallery and other venues each year. “Yosemite Conservancy donors make it possible for us to provide this life-changing opportunity for kids to visit Yosemite,” said Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean. “We are delighted to support Parks in Focus® and its efforts to inspire a lifelong appreciation for our national parks by giving kids the chance to discover nature through a camera lens.”