The exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and Midshipman 3rd Class Jose Arroyo’s experience working in the wilderness illustrates what the Smithsonian is calling “Human Connections with Nature.”
Arroyo grew up in Yonkers, New York. He was assigned to a Child and Family Services caseworkers for most of his life, attended multiple schools, even spending part of his childhood homeless. As a high school teenager looking for work, he got a job with Groundwork Hudson Valley and spent a summer building trails in Virginia and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. His work led him to a youth conference near Pike’s Peak in Colorado.
The experience changed him and set him on a new path of service and wilderness stewardship.
The following summer he worked with the Wilderness Society’s Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, using hand tools to repair wilderness trails in the mountains of North Carolina. As a result of his work, he was asked to go to Washington D.C. to speak to members of Congress about environmental legislation and how to get kids in the cities involved in the natural world.
Arroyo entered the Naval Academy in July 2013 after a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School.
“This exhibit is showing this is something that happened to this kid from an urban setting. This is what the 1964 Wilderness Act has done, here’s one of the things it’s accomplished,” said Arroyo.
Arroyo tells a story about his experience climbing Pike’s Peak and how it changed his outlook.
“I was the only one out of all the youth who climbed it. I got to the top and saw a sunset, and I was reflecting on my life and looking at absolute beauty. I can’t really explain it. It was just a feeling,” he said.
When he came back east and saw some of the exploitation of that wilderness, Arroyo said it broke his heart.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about it,” he said.
The exhibit, which features wilderness photographs selected from more than 5,000 public entries, will run until summer 2015.
You can learn more about Midshipman Arroyo’s story in this video by the Wilderness Society.