Concrete to Canyons program teaches children about national parks

ZION NATIONAL PARK (ABC4 Utah) - "I could not sleep the night before.  I was just thinking about how i'm going to have a great time with all of my friends and my teachers and the nice rangers," said 12-year-old Dakota Johnson. 

Johnson was savoring his two-night, three-day camping trip with his fellow students from the Rainbow Dream Academy in Las Vegas - learning about wildlife, geology, night skies, and how to be a steward of the land. 

"My favorite thing would probably be to see all the animals, because we don't get to see a lot of different kind of species in the city.  We see like pigeons and maybe a squirrel here or there, but that't nothing compared to all of this," said Johnson. 

The Concrete to Canyons program offers inner city children the opportunity to see a world they've never seen before.

"For so many of them, this is their first time out of Las Vegas and in a national park.  To see the excitement  that they have is indescribable," said Melissa McNeely, a 5th grade teacher at Rainbow Dreams Academy. 

"I think this is one of the most important things we can do, is just connect our young people with nature since we're so disconnected from it in our daily lives," said Andi Buttram, an Education Technician at Zion National Park.

The program is funded by the National Park Foundation, with a matching grant from the Zion National Park Forever Project. 

"In the first couple of hours, we witness kids going from being just very anxious and unsure about what's going on, to honestly going 'Oh my goodness, this is so cool' or 'I'm going to start spending so much more time outdoors," said Buttram. 

"I'm so grateful to come back here to see more of it every single day,  and just appreciate that God let me be alive to see all of this and let me witness his creations. It's just amazing to see it all," said Johnson. 

One thing all the children loved? Looking at the stars. They said they've never seen so many.

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