Yosemite National Park, California - A group of high school students from across California, who dubbed themselves "The Triumphant Turtles" for their slow and steady approach to achieving goals, credit the Adventure Risk Challenge program in Yosemite National Park for fueling a passion for conservation, improved leadership and literacy skills, and forging trails of opportunity to higher education. 

"The magic happens every time one of us wants to give up, but no matter how steep that hill is we express words of encouragement for our team. We have built trust, kindness and integrity, and together we have overcome many challenges," said Salvador Meza Lemus, one of 12 high school youth to participate in Adventure Risk Challenge's (ARC) 40-day immersion program in Yosemite's backcountry in 2014. 

"Youth programs in the park provide opportunities to teach life skills that participants can apply to the rest of their lives, including a formidable focus on conserving our public lands," said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher. "Yosemite Conservancy donors help to make these programs possible." 

In 2014, a total of 13 Youth in Yosemite programs received $1.4 million given by Yosemite Conservancy donors to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards and improve park resources. Among the many programs to receive funding were the Junior Ranger program that involved over 25,000 kids who learned about nature, the Parks in Focus photography program that used photography to teach inner city kids about the wilderness, and the Yosemite Leadership Program where college interns worked side-by-side with park staff to gain practical, field-based experience. Also, participants in the California Conservation Corps and Student Conservation Association spent their summers restoring the park's trails, campgrounds and habitat, and learning leadership skills. 

"Youth in Yosemite programs that our donors help to fund have a lasting impact for youth of all ages," said Mike Tollefson, president, Yosemite Conservancy. "Through these life changing programs, park personnel instill with the participants a passion for the outdoors and the principles of park stewardship." 

WildLink and WildLink Bridge are programs for diverse and underserved teens that also receive funding from Yosemite Conservancy donors. Students in WildLink are given a first introduction to Yosemite during a five-day expedition where they explore topics ranging from cultural and natural history to environmental conservation and stewardship. WildLink Bridge provides WildLink alumni with an opportunity to spend two weeks in Yosemite participating in an intense hands-on orientation program that inspires them to consider careers in the park. The program includes meeting with more than 30 professionals who work and live in Yosemite, as well as participating in restoration field projects and completing a wilderness patrol. 

"I learned that a deeper connection between me and nature exists. It has given me guidance in my job and place in the world. My future is in nature!" said Jesse Ochoa, a 2014 WildLink Bridge participant. 

ARC's benefits also extend beyond the park. As of 2013, 97 percent of its 230 program graduates had passed the California High School Exit Exam and 82 percent attend college. Eleven of the 12 Triumphant Turtles —from Fresno, Planada, Dos Palos, Richmond, San Francisco, Napa, Santa Rosa and Truckee —said they began the summer unconcerned about protecting nature. After backpacking 60 miles in Yosemite's wilderness, writing poetry and learning leadership skills, all were convinced of the program's importance. 

"I have improved my leadership skills and have learned how to work more effectively as a team," said Meza Lemus.

Yosemite Conservancy's support, along with other contributors, makes Youth in Yosemite programs possible. The National Park Service and several nonprofit organizations conduct the programs. 

Through the support of donors, Yosemite Conservancy provides grants and support to Yosemite National Park to help preserve and protect Yosemite today and for future generations. The work funded by Yosemite Conservancy is visible throughout the park, from trail rehabilitation to wildlife protection and habitat restoration. The Conservancy is dedicated to enhancing the visitor experience and providing a deeper connection to the park through outdoor programs, volunteering and wilderness services. Thanks to dedicated supporters, the Conservancy has provided more than $81 million in grants to Yosemite National Park. Learn more at www.yosemiteconservancy.org or call 1-800-469-7275