Imagine traveling 2,000 miles from home for the first time to trade high-rise buildings for towering trees, city lights for twinkling stars, and an urban cacophony for the melodies of songbirds.
For most of us, this would be a vacation. For six Baltimore teenagers, it was a journey to work long, hard days to restore the wilderness character of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico.
The teens are members of the Student Conservation Association, a national nonprofit organization that engages young adults in hands-on conservation to build connections with nature, and provide career skills and training. This past summer, the crew members worked in urban parks in their local vicinities to pioneer this program that employs under-represented city youth in green summer jobs near their own neighborhoods. When given the option of performing similar work in a national forest, the teens jumped at the chance.
“There’re not many wide open places like this left, so we have to do what we can to protect them,” said 17-year-old Malik Moore. “Plus, I get to go west for the first time. No way was I going to pass this up.”
During the day, the teens built hiking trails, restored campsites, and removed invasive plants before heading to basecamp to prepare their own meals over an open fire. In addition, they learned environmental lessons from their crew leaders, before retreating to their tents for a restful sleep.
“This is an adventure, no doubt about it,” said high school senior Howard Thorne, Jr. “But we all know why we’re here. There’s work to do.”
“The forest really benefitted from their contributions,” said Trail Crew Leader Craig Saum. “They learned some on-the-job training of what the forest service does and also learned about different cultures and traditions.”
The association’s urban conservation program annually engages more than 1,200 youth in 20 cities across the U.S. Workforce diversity initiatives with the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and others provide many additional young people of color with professional paths to agency careers. Each year, the association provides more than 4,000 high school and college students with conservation service opportunities in all 50 states, from urban communities to national parks and forests.