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How the Student Conservation Association Works

History of the Student Conservation Association

In 1953, Elizabeth Titus Putnam read a story in Harper's Magazine detailing the demise of United States national parks due to inadequate federal funding and a huge influx of post-World War II American families taking camping trips.

A student at Vassar College who spent her youth hiking and canoeing during vacations to her family's cabin in the Canadian north woods, Putnam was discouraged to learn the park service was woefully understaffed, and the rangers it did employ were living in leaky shacks [source:].

The article prompted Putnam, who majored in geology, to write her senior thesis, "A Proposal for a Student Conservation Corps," on creating a volunteer organization comprised of college students who would build hiking trails, maintain campgrounds and collect entrance fees to help pick up the slack.

She not only got an "A" on the paper, but her thesis advisor recommended that she share her proposal with the National Parks Service and the National Parks Association, leading to a collaboration that would last for more than 50 years [source:].

In 1957, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) placed its first group of 53 volunteers in Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks to help the park rangers for the summer. In 1960, the SCA expanded its program into Zion National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah [source: SCA]. Four years later, it was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.

Today, the SCA works on conservation projects in all 50 states through partnerships with the National Parks Service, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Indian Affairs, AmeriCorps, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Land Management [source: SCA].

It also partners with The Audubon Society, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, the Oregon Department of Fish and Game, New Hampshire State Parks, Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection and Chicago's Department of the Environment.

Read on to find out what kind of programs the SCA runs.