Author Shelton Johnson dreamed of mountains as a boy, living in Detroit. He had never been to a mountain range in the United States, and his only experiences with nature or wildlife came through screens.
Enrolled in an MFA program at the University of Michigan, Shelton applied to be a seasonal worker at Yellowstone, thinking the park would provide a quiet place to work on his writing. He has been working in national parks ever since, spending time in Yellowstone, Great Basin, and as an interpreter at Fort Dupont Park in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. There, he met students like himself who had grown up in Detroit—tough inner-city black kids whose understanding of nature was as distant as Mars.
“That’s when I first made the resolution that I had to figure out how to connect these kids with nature, to get them to have a nature experience,” he said.
Shelton found his key for connecting with audiences after being transferred to Yosemite. In the park’s archives, he found a faded photo of Buffalo Soldiers who had patrolled Yosemite at the turn of the 20th century. Since 1998, Shelton has told the story of the Buffalo Soldiers in the national parks in print, on camera, and in person. He has tracked down descendents of the soldiers, authored an award-winning website, and been lauded by civic groups and governments for his work. Shelton’s most recent work is the book Gloryland.