David Vela, former Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, says he was forever changed when, as a child, his family road-tripped from Texas to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. They traveled on a tight budget, but the experience was monumental.
“We didn't know what national parks were about,” he explains. “We didn't know why they were created or who created them until we got here. They're special places, they're wild places, they're majestic places. It took one experience, one visit to a national park, to change my life.”
Mormon Row at Grand Teton National Park
When they arrived in Wyoming, David’s first reaction was awe at the Teton skyline. His second? Anxiety at the fact that none of the other park patrons looked like his family. “We didn’t see visitors that, frankly, looked like us and we didn’t see rangers that looked like us,” he says, referencing his Latino heritage.
But that’s no longer the case today. Vela and Grand Teton National Park implemented programs that ensure people of all backgrounds are aware of and able to enjoy all that our parks have to offer.
One of these programs is Pura Vida, an outreach program that both educates and engages Latino youth in the park. “It’s more than just a community engagement opportunity,” Vela says. “It's a program that provides leadership opportunities, social skills, camping, even fly fishing.” But beyond outdoor experiences, he says the park’s programs offer life experiences.
David Vela, Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park (2014-2019)
“At some point we find those participants being seasonal employees, being interns, working in one of our lodges at one of our concession operations. It is a full immersion, but it's also life skills, it's community skills, it's people skills, and at some times it's mentoring. It’s the total package that will last a lifetime.”