Connecting Change-Makers: Story Mapping Nature with Youth in Boulder County

By: Corey Martz, Geography, Scholar Shop

Nature Kids / Jovenes de la Naturaleza (NKJN) is a collective impact initiative comprised of numerous non-profit, government, and other community organizations. These organizations are partnering to deliver nature programming, along with park and pathway construction projects, that improve access to nature for youth and families in Boulder County, Colorado. I am a geography PhD student collaborating with NKJN to do research that supports their ongoing program evaluation and decision-making efforts. More specifically, I am working with NKJN and youth who participate in their programming to better understand the diversity of youth perspectives on “what” nature means and, in turn, “where” youth connect with nature that is meaningful to them.

NKJN is a DU Scholar Shop organization, which allowed us to apply for funding through the CCESL Student Scholar Shop Grant and support a now ongoing project that engages NKJN youth participants in story mapping “what” and “where” nature is meaningful in their lives. “Story maps” are interactive web mapping applications that communicate stories about places by weaving together digital pictures, narratives, and maps (I am currently unable to share story maps from the project, but please follow this link to get a sense of what a story map looks like). The NKJN youth participants create story maps during workshops that I facilitate in Boulder County. On computers and tablets, youth who participate in story mapping use a suite of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) applications to bring together their stories – finding 3D Google Earth images, writing narratives, and mapping the locations of places where nature is special in their lives. As one way to thank and value the time and contributions of youth who participated in story mapping, they receive gift cards made possible by the funding we received from the CCESL Student Scholar Shop Grant.

At an organizational level, one of the primary aims of this story mapping project is to expand the capacity of NKJN by gathering stories of where nature is meaningful in the lives of their youth participants. These stories are also data that can be useful for supporting NKJN’s ongoing program evaluation and decision-making efforts towards improving access to nature in Boulder County. Yet, as I continue to work with youth in story mapping workshops, I see impacts that go beyond data. Story mapping is also an opportunity for youth to learn about and gain hands-on experience using GIS applications like Google Earth. These GIS applications also allow youth to engage with their meaningful nature in new ways, for example, when they virtually visit places on Google Earth where they have not been in a long time – or have never been before. Story mapping is one way for community organizations like NKJN to engage their community members in informing organizational efforts and in sharing their perspectives about issues relevant to their lives.

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