Your feet crunch the mossy twigs that coat the forest floor as you begin your ascent, surrounded by the wonders of the Chocó cloud forest. As you approach the summit of your jagged trail, you lean to rest on the broad tree trunk by your side, which towers so high that you can’t see the tip of it. When your hand connects with this overpowering presence, the solid texture of wood you expected is pleasantly replaced with what feels like a wall of mosses and lichens, the cool damp working its way through the creases in your hands like a stream. You’ve been on your expedition for hours, but the mounting exhaustion becomes worth it when you realise that your head is, truly, in the clouds.

a photo of the ecuadorian cloud forest showing the forest with clouds.

Lost in the clouds in the Chocó cloud forest. Photo credit: Callie Broaddus.

We are Reserva: The Youth Land Trust, and our work has not only seen us live this experience, but for the last three years has focused on preserving this beautiful ecosystem for Ecuador’s inhabitants, and all of our futures. It’s called Dracula Youth Reserve—what we believe to be the world’s first entirely youth-funded nature reserve—and it was made possible by a series of innovative, youth-led campaigns. Saving all of the at-risk cloud forest remaining would take the innovation and effort of all of the incredible conversationalists in the making—hopefully you if you’re reading this—but we had to start somewhere. Seeing how people of all generations and backgrounds feel so deeply about the planet fills us with so much hope towards our future, and we cannot wait for you to read and enjoy this article and learn about what we have achieved so far.

With 50 youth volunteers, a bunch of project ideas, and a whole lot of hope to create change, we focused our efforts on this 244-acre patch of cloud forest that would add to the growing Dracula Reserve ecological corridor. We would work with two incredible partners—Rainforest Trust, which was matching every dollar we raised, and Fundación EcoMinga, which would ultimately receive the funds to purchase and protect the land. But the fundraising was up to us!

Of course, to start, we all donated and asked our friends to contribute. But not everyone would be able to donate money, so we launched a creative campaign at the same time to match efforts from young people who want to help with real funds for conservation: The 1 Million Letters Campaign is the simple idea that if you can write a letter, you can save the rainforest. We match every letter we receive in support of nature with $3, meaning that when you write, you protect an area of Ecuadorian Chocó cloud forest the size of a whole classroom. Then, we read through every single one, compiling them into emotive, yet hard-hitting packs of letters which we parade to as many international conventions we can get ourselves into! Reading these letters is one of my jobs within the network, and whenever I feel saddened by gloomy planetary news, I can count on these letters to fill me with hope again.

A photo of envelopes addressed to world leaders, from global youth.

Every letter received in the 1 million letters campaign is matched with $3, protecting an area of cloud forest the size of a classroom. Photo credit: Reserva YLT.

Members of Reserva’s Youth Council also put forward their own fundraising initiatives, which the group came together to support. Our Instagram Live Concert for Conservation was so fun that we brought it back for an encore, including a performance from Olivia Rodrigo! We held a “Wild Trivia” night with actor Nathalie Boltt and one member’s 45-mile ultramarathon sparked the idea for our virtual 5K and 1-mile dash and Run for the Rainforest. The second edition of Run for the Rainforest saw 716 participants across 28 beautiful countries sprint, walk, cycle and paddleboard to success—raising enough to fund 6.42 acres of the Dracula Youth Reserve project. The third Run for the Rainforest will be back later this year!

It took these projects and many others to scrape together the nearly $90,000 we needed to create Dracula Youth Reserve, but in about 18 months, we did it. It felt like an incredible achievement. But we’re not stopping there. Reserva just launched our second project—an emergency project to expand Dracula Youth Reserve by protecting 1,050 acres of forest currently threatened by gold mining. This project will quintuple the size of our footprint in the Dracula Reserve ecosystem, and it will be three times the fundraising effort! We’ll need many more creative projects to make this possible. I hope you’ll join us!

A satellite view of the cloud forest showing dense tree canopies from above.

Reserva YLT is dedicated to expanding the area of protection in the Chocó cloud forest. Photo credit: Callie Broaddus.

So to sum us up, we are a motivated, diverse, and incredibly inspired group of solution-oriented advocates and friends, all packed into one vibrant network. The goal is to create a network of youth-funded protected areas around the world. We at Reserva will never lose sight of this ambition, and so we will continue to work for the protection of Earth’s most biodiverse places, one acre at a time.

Callie is the founder and executive director of Reserva Youth Land Trust, leading Reserva's expeditions in the Ecuadorian Chocó rainforest.
Monica is a member of Reserva Youth Land Trust, active in the outreach of the organization and in the junior committees.