Stewart L. Udall Parks in Focus® Program
What is Parks in Focus® – Our History
In 1999, the Udall Foundation piloted a simple idea: put cameras in the hands of middle school youth and lead them on action-packed
adventures to visit, photograph, and explore some of our Nation’s most inspiring landscapes and celebrated public lands.
Flash forward to today: through the support and partnership of
Western National Parks Association and others, Parks in Focus® now reaches
hundreds of kids annually through its
Foundation-Led Programs and
Partner-Led Initiatives that occur throughout the year, across
multiple states, and in settings ranging from schoolyards and city park systems to iconic national park sites.
25 Years in 25 Photos: 1999-2023
A Timeline of Significant Parks in Focus® Milestones
The Udall Foundation partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley for the very first Parks in Focus® program! Twelve youth joined this four-day excursion to northern Arizona that included visits to Canyon de Chelly, Hubbell Trading Post, Painted Desert, and Petrified Forest.
Parks in Focus® hosted its second four-day program—this time based in Sedona—with a group of 12 youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson. This year also marked the first Parks in Focus® youth photography exhibitions, which were held at Tucson International Airport and Children’s Museum Tucson.
The third annual Parks in Focus® trip with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson was once again based out of Sedona and included visits to numerous public land sites around northern Arizona. This trip also marked the first time a Parks in Focus® group visited Grand Canyon National Park.
Parks in Focus® hosted a four-day trip to explore the White Mountains, Painted Desert, and Petrified Forest. They also visited St. Johns, the small Arizona town where Morris and Stewart Udall were raised. Additionally, Jordana, a 2001 participant from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, finished first place in her age group in the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National ImageMakers Photography Contest.
Photo By: Jordana, age 11, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson
Although no Parks in Focus® trips were held in 2003, Udall Foundation staff worked with the 2002 participants from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson to select and submit their best images to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National ImageMakers Photography Contest.
Photo By: Angel, age 11, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson
Thanks to the Bert W. Martin Foundation, the Udall Foundation hired the Environmental Education Exchange to help develop a formal curriculum for Parks in Focus® that highlighted the role and importance of our Nation’s public lands. Additionally, Udall Foundation team members began hosting annual post-trip workshops for youth to design their own websites using photos from their Parks in Focus® trip.
The Udall Foundation began enlisting alumni of its Undergraduate Scholarship Program to help lead the annual summer Parks in Focus® program in Arizona. Udall Scholars brought their environmental expertise and passions to the program, which enhanced the integration of ecology, geology, and natural history in the Parks in Focus® curriculum.
Photo By: Ramiro, age 11, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson
Under the leadership of Udall Scholarship alumni, Parks in Focus® piloted its first program outside of Arizona in 2006. This trip was held in New Jersey in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County and included visits to Gateway National Recreation Area and other local sites.
Parks in Focus® made the shift from film to digital photography and transitioned from having students stay in cabins to camping in tents in 2007. This year also saw the first Michigan program, which consisted of a 6-day camping trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and other sites across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This program continues today with the support of our partners.
Photo By: Emily, age 12, TrueNorth Community Services
The Udall Foundation hired its first full-time program manager dedicated primarily to Parks in Focus® in 2008. With expanded support of Udall Scholarship alumni, Parks in Focus® continued its existing summer programs in Arizona, New Jersey, and Michigan as well as added a new summer program to Acadia National Park in Maine.
Parks in Focus® piloted its first 6-day program based entirely at Grand Canyon National Park and hosted an impressive youth photography exhibition at the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum in Washington, D.C., attended by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other special guests. Later that year, Parks in Focus® would be renamed the Stewart L. Udall Parks in Focus® Program to honor Stewart Udall’s public lands legacy.
Thanks to an America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation, Parks in Focus® partnered with the National Park Service and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula to pilot its first summer program at Yosemite National Park. This successful satellite initiative continues to this day thanks to recurring support from Yosemite Conservancy.
Photo By: Rachel, age 12, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula
Parks in Focus® made a significant shift in its program model with the launch of its year-round community development initiative in Tucson. This new model incorporated after-school programming at all six Boys & Girls Club locations in Tucson as well as weekend field trips to explore and photograph local parks and public lands.
Parks in Focus® hosted its first youth photography exhibition at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park. This now annual exhibition features images taken by youth from the San Francisco Bay Area who participate in our summer Parks in Focus® programs at Yosemite.
Photo By: Monica, age 12, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula
Parks in Focus® expanded its successful summer program at Grand Canyon National Park to engage new partner organizations including the Boys & Girls Club of Flagstaff, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley, and Talent Search TRIO of Northern Arizona University. Later that year, Sergio, a 2013 Parks in Focus® participant from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, had one of his photos selected to be featured on the 2014 annual pass for Saguaro National Park.
Photo By: Sergio, age 12, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson
Parks in Focus® welcomed a new partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson (now Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona). The aim of this effort was to provide opportunities for BBBS youth and their adult mentors to get outside, learn, and explore together. This partnership opened the door for Parks in Focus® to expand its community development initiative to engage new youth-serving organizations.
Photo By: Ariel, 11, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona
Parks in Focus® revamped its curriculum piloting a unique approach that integrated basic photography concepts with opportunities for environmental exploration and learning. That same year, Parks in Focus® also launched a new partnership with Imago Dei Middle School as part of its community development initiative in Tucson.
Photo By: Ana, age 14, Imago Dei Middle School
The Udall Foundation formalized an expanded partnership with Western National Parks Association (WNPA), a long-time supporter of the program, that designated WNPA as the official nonprofit partner of Parks in Focus®. This partnership remains crucial to the success of Parks in Focus® and helps the program reach more youth and offer additional activities in the Tucson community each year.
Parks in Focus® was featured in Hues of Heaven: The Glory of Tucson Sunsets, a publication produced by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona (BBBS), that featured sunset images taken by BBBS youth during a series of Parks in Focus® outings hosted at Saguaro National Park. The YMCA of Southern Arizona was also added as a new program partner.
Photo By: Lenis, age 12, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Arizona
Parks in Focus® celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special exhibition and event at WNPA. One event highlight was recognizing Anthony, a Parks in Focus® participant from the YMCA of Southern Arizona, whose photo of the church at Tumacácori National Historical Park was selected to be featured on the park’s 2019 annual pass.
Photo By: Anthony, age 9, YMCA of Southern Arizona
A team of six Parks in Focus® alumni from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson traveled on a special five-day fall camping trip to film the first Parks in Focus® Junior Photographer video series. The group developed seven videos—each covering a different photography concept from the Parks in Focus® curriculum—at six different National Park sites across southern Arizona.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges related to engaging youth in Parks in Focus® programming. Mailed cameras, activity boxes, videos, and virtual meet-ups helped encourage youth and families to get outside and explore in their backyards, their neighborhoods, and wherever they could get outside.
After a year of working in a virtual environment, the Parks in Focus® team enthusiastically began its return to in-person programming. These activities were tailored for smaller groups of youth and focused student exploration on parks that were closer to home.
Parks in Focus® invested in its first fleet of DSLR cameras and began work on an advanced photography curriculum to use with program alumni and older youth participants.
Photo By: Christian, age 14, Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson
In addition to celebrating the 25th anniversary of Parks in Focus®, the Udall Foundation received the 2023 Youth Impact Award from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson in recognition of 25 years of service to local youth. Additionally, an Outdoor Grant from the National Recreation Foundation helped Parks in Focus® increase its impact in Tucson through the addition of new partners and expanded programming.