Some 40 fourth and fifth graders from Oneida Elementary School had an opportunity to stay overnight at the remote Charit Creek Lodge recently, thanks to an America’s Best Idea grant received by the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

The BSF was one of 34 national parks across the country to receive a 2013 America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation, it was announced last week.

The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks, and its Best Idea grant was inspired by Ken Burns’ critically-acclaimed documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” The grants are aimed at park activities designed to connect diverse, under-served and under-engaged populations throughout the U.S.

The BSF used its grant to provide an interactive educational experience for students in the Oneida Special School District. Students stayed overnight at Charit Creek Lodge. There, where no electricity or telephones are available, students got a sense of what life in the remote communities of the Big South Fork was like 100 years ago.

Charit Creek Lodge and the surrounding Station Camp valley are steeped in history, with a feeling of remoteness that harkens back to much earlier times.
As part of the overnight trip, students participated in storytelling by BSF interpreters that related tales of the land’s rich history.

“One of the great things about our national parks is that every American can related to these treasured places if given the chance to experience them,” Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, said. “It’s our mission to engage visitors from all backgrounds in the diverse stories that we tell in our national parks.”

The Best Idea program gives people, youth in particular, opportunities to connect to national parks in innovative ways, according to National Parks Foundation CEO Neil Mulholland.

“From experiences that center on history, the environment and even adventure, we are able to capture the imagination of a new generation of park-goers in ways that benefit their lives and the future of the parks,” Mulholland said.