Athens High School juniors Brianna Johnson and Katie Schmidt recently placed second in C-SPAN’s StudentCam documentary competition for their project “Loved to Death” on overcrowding in America’s national parks system.

Athens High School juniors Brianna Johnson and Katie Schmidt recently placed second in C-SPAN’s StudentCam documentary competition for their project “Loved to Death” on overcrowding in America’s national parks system.

Photo provided by Patrice Rowbal

Athens students place second in national documentary competition

‘A lot of people don’t realize there is overcrowding in the parks’

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published May 24, 2023


TROY — Two juniors at Athens High School are being recognized after placing second in C-SPAN’s national StudentCam documentary competition.

Brianna Johnson and Katie Schmidt’s five-minute piece titled “Loved to Death” showcases overcrowding in the United States’ national parks system and the need to find a balance between allowing visitors to enjoy the parks and maintaining the parks’ natural beauty.

“A lot of people don’t realize there is overcrowding in the parks. So we hope this makes people more mindful and choose their actions more wisely,” said Johnson. “We decided to choose this topic because there was not a lot out there on this subject. They see a lot of repetition in the competition in topics in the videos produced. National parks are something everyone loves and everyone can agree on. We looked at overcrowding, and when we talked to the parks, we saw that there was no one solution to address it and that they were trying different things. What we found was the solution was more funding so each could address their own individual issues in each park.”

“We got the idea because my family loves traveling to the national parks,” added Schmidt. “My teacher showed us the prompt about the C-SPAN competition, so we thought it would be a perfect topic.”

Rachel Katz, an affiliate relations manager for C-SPAN, helped present the award to Johnson and Schmidt and noted that their work was recognized because of the effort they put into it and the passion they clearly had for the topic.

“Their video was really great. Their interviews, which they got by getting different rangers from different parks around the state to speak, were interesting,” said Katz. “They were creative and resourceful. They started with a bit of history about how visiting national parks started and then talked about the issues some individual parks had and segued that into how that is representative of some larger parks issues. You could tell this wasn’t something they were assigned. This was something they care about.”

Johnson said their findings were interesting and that this is a topic that both those who oversee the parks and the general public shouldn’t ignore.

“People have been romanticizing the parks on social media, which is causing more people to come there. COVID was definitely a factor, since people wanted to get out and go somewhere without having to be around other people or stay indoors,” she explained. “I did a research project after we did the video, and the parks I’ve seen get increases in attendance over the last four years are only going to keep increasing. People don’t have to travel out of the United States, and people can get a lot from traveling there, so they are popular destinations.”

The pair were up against some heavy competition from all over the country.

“This year we had over 1,500 entries. There were more than 3,000 students. They can work in groups of up to three. This is the 19th year we’ve hosted the competition,” said Katz.

She added that there were some basic rules all entries had to follow, but otherwise, it was up to the students to decide what direction they wanted to take their documentary in.

“We host the competition in middle and high schools interested in what is going on in their communities and connect what is happening locally to what is happening nationally. We hope this gets them involved in the political process,” Katz said. “They have some core rules to follow. They have to use C-SPAN video from our archives. It has to be within a certain time limit of five to six minutes. We look for creativity, how they take such big issues and talk about them in the short time limit. We look at their interviews and how they choose to tell their story.”

Johnson and Schmidt said they were honored to win and that it was fulfilling to see their work was making an impact.

“It was really cool to place,” Schmidt remarked. “Our teacher said we had a good chance at winning, but it never felt real.”

“It was really nice, because we won $1,500, which was great, but the real thing from it was spreading awareness,” added Johnson. “Seeing it air on national television was such a huge accomplishment. It felt so good to spread awareness. The idea that something we did might make even just a few people be more mindful was great. We’ve had people tell us after they saw the documentary that they didn’t know about the issue and they want to change how they do things.”

“Loved to Death” is available to view on YouTube at More information on the competition can be found online for those considering making their own documentary for next year’s competition.

“They can go to to learn more, and the new topic for next year’s entries will be announced this summer,” said Katz. “Entries are always due Jan. 20. We’re always interested in students who find this on their own. We love to see their interest.”

Johnson and Schmidt said their hope is that they can play a part in helping maintain one of their country’s greatest resources: its national parks.

“I hope people are more mindful when they go to the parks,” Schmidt said. “The parks said there are a lot of issues with people cutting through parts that aren’t on the trail or damaging the park from bringing in coolers and so forth.”