Young-at-heart

Guest post by Emily Gillit, who wrote about Uplift for a journalism assignment this spring:

Emily Gillit has lived in Northern Arizona for the majority of her life. She is currently attending Northern Arizona University to study Photography and Journalism so she can share the beauty and wonder hidden in plain sight here in Arizona.

Over the weekend of April 17-19, 2015 at Camp Colton, the Grand Canyon Trust hosted Uplift, their first climate conference for young people, by young people. The goal of the conference, according to the Grand Canyon Trust website is “to empower and unite young leaders to address climate change on the Colorado Plateau.”

The Grand Canyon Trust’s mission is “to protect and restore the Colorado Plateau — its spectacular landscapes, flowing rivers, clean air, diversity of plants and animals, and areas of beauty and solitude.” A youth conference was the perfect way for the Grand Canyon Trust to connect to young and young-at-heart people to inform them of the issues within the region and help them understand what they can do to help.

In explaining the name of the conference, Claire Martini, coordinator for Uplift and for youth engagement for AmeriCorps, said, “we called ourselves Uplift, after the geologic phenomenon that defines the Colorado Plateau. For us, home lies within the elevated contours and aridity that define this broad sweep of high desert.”

The Grand Canyon Trust used Camp Colton to set the tone of the conference, by getting all of their participants to connect with the outdoors. Camp Colton is “a residential environmental education center that is owned by the Flagstaff Unified School District,” according to the Friends of Camp Colton website.

The Colorado Plateau is a region that encompasses a wide range of natural features spanning across the four corners region. The plateau takes up the majority of Northern Arizona, Southeast Utah, West Colorado and the Northwest of New Mexico.

The conference made itself available to everyone. The fee for Uplift was a minimum donation of $5. The Grand Canyon Trust also offered the opportunity for registration fee waivers and travel scholarships.

Uplift attracted people from across the country, including students from Washington, from all types of backgrounds and ethnicities, drawing them into the conversation about conservation of the Colorado Plateau. The variety of backgrounds lent itself to expanding the conversation.

The first panel attended by all participants discussed the state of the land, water and politics in relation to the Colorado Plateau. The general goal of the panel was to spark the discussion that would be at the center of the conference, informing all of the participants of the current issues facing the region.

Discussions and workshops took up the majority of the three-day conference. The Grand Canyon Trust gave participants the option of choosing the workshops he or she wanted to attend. Options ranged from ‘Wilderness and Wildness’ to ‘Black Mesa Water Coalition: Just Transitions and Restorative Economy’ and ‘Save the Confluence’ to ‘Passion for Place: Photography in Conservation’ among many others.

In reflection on Uplift, a conference attendee said, “ I now feel empowered with knowledge to carry forward and make actual change. It was so important to bring people together from diverse backgrounds so we can learn from each other...also, [I was] so inspired to see an event this effective organized by people my age!”    

Approximately 90 young and young-at-heart people attended the conference, working together and participating in discussions and workshops.

Each Uplift participant left Camp Colton with a greater understanding of the Colorado Plateau, with connections to people who were as passionate as they were and with the knowledge of how to make a difference in issues facing the region.

Uplift laid the groundwork for future conferences by the Grand Canyon Trust as well as expanding the network of people interested in the issues relating to the Colorado Plateau. The 2015 conference was planned over six short months by 10 coordinators. The Grand Canyon Trust is already working on Uplift 2016, currently planned for August 18-20 in Durango, Colorado. The Grand Canyon Trust and Northern Arizona University’s Landscape Conservation Initiative make Uplift possible.