Parks Paid Forward: Uriel Llanas

Parks Paid Forward: Uriel Llanas

Every year on my birthday I renew my annual National Park pass. This small monetary investment of $80 provides me with access to hundreds of federally managed recreation areas and historic monuments across the United States. I am truly grateful for a lifetime of joy and adventure in the exploration of our public lands and national heritage sites. To assure their continued protection for years to come I make a gift of a second park pass to someone in our community who can truly use it. This year the recipient of the Parks Paid Forward Pass goes to Uriel Llanas!

I first met Uriel a few years ago at the Michigan Ice Festival in Munising. As a youth volunteer for Detroit Outdoors he worked at sharing his love of nature with young people in his neighborhood while learning technical skills as a recreation leader. His enthusiasm and excitement for winter adventure was infectious and I liked him immediately. Uriel was a participant in the Pictured Rocks Ice Climbing Retreat in 2021, where he demonstrated a level of maturity and self-confidence that belied his young age. Most recently he joined us again in the Hiawatha National Forest for the Upper Peninsula Fly-Fishing Expedition. I was happy to learn that he has become a full-time leader with Detroit Outdoors as a program coordinator. He aims to make guiding and experiential education his career.

As a first generation American citizen Uriel has chosen a profession without a lot of job security. He shared with me that his parents would much rather that he take on a more lucrative career path. I know from personal experience that our family members don’t always understand that the abiding passion we experience for the outdoors can be a rewarding opportunity to acquire and practice marketable skills. The time we spend outside in pursuit of our dreams of adventure can lead to steady employment in jobs that not only pay well but we genuinely love.

I want to send up a BIG thank you to everyone who extended their wishes for a happy birthday. Now that I’m a bit closer to 60 than 50 I am grateful for the many opportunities I have been received throughout my life to experience the world outdoors as a career professional. I spent the week following my 56th lap around the sun on my first assignment with National Geographic Expeditions as a National Park expert. For seven days I co-guided a tour of Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion. In this new gig I get to share my knowledge of National Park history that includes the experiences of people of color, Native Americans and other marginalized communities who have always made and continue to make direct contributions to the preservation of the public lands we all love.

It is my hope that through this small gift of a national park pass I can encourage young people like Uriel to pay forward their appreciation for the enduring legacy of environmental conservation that is their birthright. The integrity of our public lands can only be maintained if the ethos of preservation is passed down from one generation to the next. Just as my love of the outdoors was encouraged by my family and mentors throughout my life, I am grateful this opportunity to ensure that our parks will carry on well into the future.