In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in light of the continued United States Government shut down, SUU proved their “The University of the Parks” title by helping clean Zion National Park on Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Due to the current government shutdown, students were able to get into the park for free in order to help clean up garbage.
“Zion really is our backyard,” Pam Branin, the associate director of SUU community engagement, said. “This is a great opportunity as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events to come down and do this.”
Branin also thought about the opportunity SUU students had to help a piece of their community outside of a classroom environment.
“College is a unique time. Students don’t have a lot of financial or material resources. But they’re uniquely poised to be able to give time and energy,” Branin said. “It isn’t just a time to learn about an academic discipline, it’s a time to learn how to be an active community member.”
When the project was announced, the SUU Outdoor Engagement Center put a limit on transportation due to how many students volunteered.
“We ended up with about 25-30 students, facility, staff and community members,” Anne Smith, the outdoor engagement special project coordinator, said.“It was a really nice mix of people. We were really happy with the interest and the turnout.”
For some students, the project gave them a chance to visit Zion with a new perspective.
“It’s my third time being here, and I always enjoy the view,” Yuri Bertacchi, a sophomore studying communications, said. “But I think it’s important [to do this project] because nature is an important thing and we have to respect that. Doing these kinds of things is the best way to keep nature as clean as possible.”
Although the shutdown helped SUU students get into the park for free, the clean up project had been in the works for a while.
“Zion National Park had reached out to us pre-government shut down and asked if there would be interest in doing a MLK Day of service event with them,” Branin said. “Then the shutdown happened, and our conversations ended. When Anne [Smith] called me and said she had been communicating with someone… I was really happy to help support it.”
Smith was also very happy for the sense of community that was felt by the volunteers.
“We often think that our communities are just houses, stores, shops and things like that,” Smith said. “[National Parks and public lands] are our community also. That’s what we’re trying to help people understand.”
Students also found a way to relate the outdoor project a little closer to home.
“When we asked for feedback, we asked, ‘Would you do something like this again?’” Branin said. “They very enthusiastically said, ‘Yes! Do it again! We want more!’.”
Students, faculty and staff who are wanting to be more involved in community service around Cedar City and the surrounding areas can contact the SUU Community Engagement Center at 435-865-8335.
Story By: Kurt Meacham
Photos By: Kurt Meacham