Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is nestled on the state’s Lower Peninsula between the fresh waters of Lake Michigan and forest-capped bluffs. In 2021, the 71,000-acre park welcomed 1.7 million people. Increasing visitation across our country’s parks adds to the urgent need to protect and preserve these iconic places and resources for generations to come. Carhartt has partnered with the National Park Foundation (NPF) to help do just that.
The NPF raises money for the National Park Service to meet the needs not funded by Congress—which is why Carhartt committed $750,000 to NPF to strengthen the foundation’s Communities and Workforce initiative. “We’re the matchmaker ensuring these funds go to the organizations and park sites that are doing incredible conservation and restoration projects,” says Tracey Ritchie, VP of education and engagement at the NPF.
To celebrate the National Park Service’s 106th birthday, Carhartt representatives visited Sleeping Bear Dunes (just a few hours from the company’s headquarters in Dearborn) and highlighted the important work being done by NPF-supported service corps workforce programs like YouthWork—a local nonprofit AmeriCorps program in Michigan that teaches conservation job skills to young people.
On a mid-August day at Sleeping Bear, crews of teenagers and young adults are serving with YouthWork, helping to repair the 150-year-old Sleeping Bear Inn in historic Glen Haven Village before it reopens to the public. Service corps members from Detroit are wrangling a jackhammer, removing a large slab of concrete. Nearby, a young woman is learning how to plane a board for what will be a staircase. “See this warp in the board?” her crew leader asks. “This is how you smooth it.” On the 1.5-mile Empire Bluff Trail, one of the park’s most popular hikes, crews are working to combat erosion caused by heavier-than-normal rains and a thinning of the forest canopy by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that attacks ash trees.
At the historic Dechow Farms, 17-year-old Ryan Butler of Detroit tends goats that eat an autumn olive tree—an invasive species in the park. “I read the job description for this and wanted to do it,” says Butler, who’s about to start his senior year of high school and plans to return again next summer. “I get to camp, give back to the community, and work with tools I’ve never worked with before, like chainsaws.” He wasn’t originally a goat person, but now he’s into them.
What Butler is describing is the whole point of the program: to help young people develop skills, connect with the outdoors, and gain an appreciation for the work it takes to protect and conserve the parks for others to enjoy. That type of work—and work ethic—is exactly what Carhartt and the NPF want to champion. With funding for the NPF-supported service corps programs like YouthWork, the parks receive the attention they need and young people get hands-on job opportunities in the outdoors.
“The most important thing is that we’re empowering the next generation of outdoor workers and leaders,” says Carhartt president and COO Linda Hubbard. “Our mission is to serve and protect hardworking people, and part of that is protecting opportunities for recreation.” With the NPF and YouthWork, says Hubbard, it’s a two-for-one: Carhartt gets to help preserve public land for everyone to enjoy and give young workers skills they can love using in their careers to come.
According to Amanda Scott, YouthWork AmeriCorps Director, the program has a 91 percent success rate for people completing their summer contracts, and this year 83 youth AmeriCorps members are on projects around the state. Their tasks run the gamut from building new trails to removing invasive species to repairing damage. YouthWork wants to make sure the opportunity is accessible to anyone who is interested, so it provides individualized training, support, and special accommodations. YouthWork is part of a diverse network of NPF-supported service corps programs across the country, many of which have affinity crews, from all-women veteran crews to groups that operate entirely using American Sign Language.
“These students are gaining skills that are going to take them into their career, which is hopefully an outdoor career, but also if they’re going to be a plumber or a teacher,” says Ritchie. “They’re building that care ethic and stewardship and are having incredible immersive experiences in the outdoors.”
Last year alone, NPF-supported service corps workers completed critical projects at over 50 national park sites: they restored over 900 acres of natural habitat, planted 30,000 trees, removed 40,000 pounds of litter, and logged a staggering 50,000 hours of service.
“We want to continue to make an impact and be part of the community,” says Hubbard. “Our purpose is focused on building a better world and we can’t do it by ourselves, but we can do it alongside hardworking people.”
Established in 1889, Carhartt is a global premium workwear brand with a rich heritage of developing rugged products for workers on and off the job. Headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan, with approximately 5,400 employees worldwide, Carhartt is family-owned and managed by the descendants of the company’s founder, Hamilton Carhartt. For more information, visit www.carhartt.com.