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Creating futures by sharing the past

MONTICELLO, Utah -- Janet Ross gives new meaning to the term "eco-tourism"
with her nonprofit, Monticello-based Four Corners School.

In its early years, Four Corners School offered only educational field
trips on the Colorado Plateau. Ross' plan was to give guests a backpacking
and camping adventure experience led by experts in related fields, such as
anthropology, archaeology and Native studies. As the years passed, the
adventure travel industry burgeoned, and the school's offerings expanded to
serve that growing market and later took a new turn.

"One of my main goals has always been to preserve natural and cultural
treasures, primarily in the Southwest, but also around the world," said
Ross. "Our Southwest Safari Camps, which are new travel offerings for 2006,
are the most controlled way to educate people about the issues -- to get
them to care enough to learn about them. They'll then leave no trace, and
will come back respectfully."

The plan for the Southwest Safari Camps is to establish three
semi-permanent, deluxe campsites: "The Other Chaco Canyon" (New Mexico),
"The Other Canyonlands" (Utah) and "The Other Mesa Verde" (Colorado).
Highlights of these journeys include hands-on education and exploration, a
combination of deluxe camping and hotel accommodations, and hiking to
seldom-seen archaeological sites. The summer program on Cedar Mesa includes
child-friendly activities and teaches primitive living skills for all
family members.

One of the great "side effects" of sharing the preservation of ancient
ruins with interested travelers is that the money generated by these trips
goes to help Indian youth, primarily Navajo, in the school's educational
and service programs. With a background in guiding and teaching for both
the National Outdoor Leadership School and Outward Bound, Ross has a
history of working with Hopi and Navajo kids. She's also served as a ranger
for all the major land management agencies, including the National Park
Service and the Bureau of Land Management, before starting Four Corners
School in 1984.

"By selling excursions like our Southwest Safari Camps, we've been able to
establish a teacher-focused environmental education program that gives
elementary teachers -- many on the Navajo reservation -- a science resource
center in each school, complete with training for all educators in that
school," said Ross. "We're trying to build collaborative learning
environments across the Colorado Plateau schools -- and part of what we're
discovering is the impact hands-on outdoor education has on teacher
retention." The National Science Foundation has given a sizable grant to
Four Corners School to study those effects on teacher retention.

The program has four regional coordinators who manage six schools per year
in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The goal is to eventually serve
all public and reservation schools in the area. Since 1998, more than 57
schools have been served.

The second program, the Canyon County Youth Corps, provides job training
for 16- to 23-year-olds. Approximately 95 percent of the project's crew
members are Navajo. Each crew has two leaders, one crew leader (in
training) and eight to 10 crew members. They learn jobs in habitat
restoration, plant science, fire/fuels reduction, trail maintenance and
other recreation tasks.

"The main things I hope [these youth] come out with is a strong work ethic
and the knowledge that they can do things that they've never done, or were
never given the opportunity to do, and get paid for it," said CCYC Program
Manager Tim Foulkes. "They may have done a lot of these things [like building fences] on family land, but being asked to work on public lands,
learn conservation techniques ... and study first aid/CPR and geology on
the San Juan River for college credit, is new to them."

The CCYC work schedule has recently changed to nine days on and four days
off during its 8- or 9-week program. "We made this move because our
previous schedule meant we were out in the wilderness for so long, I was
losing a lot of crew members," said Foulkes. For many of the participants,
this is their first experience ever being away from home.

Others, like Sheldon Shepherd, 19, return year after year. This Navajo man
is proud of his accomplishments. "This is my fourth time; now I'm a
leader-in-training, making even more money than before. I enjoy doing
physical labor -- the kind of work they give us here. That, and I get to
meet a lot of new people every time. The best part of being here is all the
knowledge I've gained. I come away with new skills."

Shepherd said he now sees himself continuing work for the Forest Service,
something he didn't picture himself doing when he first started working
with CCYC.

Beatrice Begay, also 19, is another Navajo repeat participant from
Dennehotso, Ariz. She agreed with Shepherd about the work. Begay has her
sights set even further into the future. "I think the best thing about
being in this program is knowing that I helped nature, that I did something
I can bring my kids -- and future generations -- here and say, 'I did
that.'"

What advice do Begay and Shepherd have for would-be CCYC members? "Don't
quit -- even if it gets tough. Down the line, it will get much easier,"
said Begay.

"Keep a good attitude and work hard," said Shepherd. "You'll make it all
the way through. CCYC rocks!"