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Native American Youths in Florida get Behind-the-Scenes Look at Forest Service Careers

The National Forests in Florida hosted Native American teenagers from the Florida Indian Youth Program on the Apalachicola National Forest. The program, sponsored by the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs focuses on job skills, academic skills, life-skills, social and cultural activities.

The National Forests in Florida hosted Native American teenagers from the Florida Indian Youth Program on the Apalachicola National Forest. The program, sponsored by the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs focuses on job skills, academic skills, life-skills, social and cultural activities.

Their eyes wide open and their minds prepped to learn, a group of Native American youths from Florida recently glimpsed the skills and knowledge needed for  Forest Service careers during a field trip to the Apalachicola National Forest.

Forest professionals from civil engineering, landscape architecture, archaeology and recreation escorted teenagers from the Florida Indian Youth Program during their visit.  The teens got the stories behind several hiking, biking and fishing day-use areas on the forest. The goal was to give the teens insight in the process of creating user-friendly recreation sites. From idea, to planning, to execution, the employees presented the stages involved in site development.

“In my case, it’s kinda like giving them a day in the life of a Forest Service landscape architect,” said Kristen Johnson, a Forest Service landscape architect with the agency.

Johnson was one of five employees who explained their specialized fields of work to the teenagers during their visit to the forest. Sponsored by the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs, this annual event gives youth the opportunity to consider careers in natural resources.

First stop on the forest was Munson Hills Off-Road Bicycle Trail south of Tallahassee, Fla. This popular mountain bike trail was renovated in 2011.  Rhonda Kimbrough, a heritage program manager, gave the students a site overview and the preliminary steps to expanding and renovating the trail. Kimbrough is responsible for oversight of the survey, and evaluation and protection of significant cultural resources throughout Florida’s three National Forests.

“They needed this information to understand all the components involved to prepare a site for renovation, including archaeological surveys. A lot of care is taken to make sure we’ve dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s,” said Kimbrough.

As they eased farther into the forest, they headed to Trout Pond, which has a wheelchair accessible nature trail, a pier that extends into the lake, and scenic views of the pond surrounded by cypress and pine trees. Beneath a picnic shelter, Toni Addison, a civil engineer, gave students an overview of recreation site planning.

Nathan Wadlinger from the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina reads an interpretive sign at the Big Dismal Sinkhole at Leon Sinks Geological Area, a popular recreation site located south of Tallahassee, Fla. Wadlinger was one of seven Native American youths from the Florida Indian Youth Program who participated in a group hike of this unique geological recreation site.

Nathan Wadlinger from the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina reads an interpretive sign at the Big Dismal Sinkhole at Leon Sinks Geological Area, a popular recreation site located south of Tallahassee, Fla. Wadlinger was one of seven Native American youths from the Florida Indian Youth Program who participated in a group hike of this unique geological recreation site.

“I want them to know how excited I am about my experience and career with the Forest Service,” said Addison. “I’m always glad to give of my time to help others find their way in life.”

The final stop was the Leon Sink Geological Area, a unique geological site also renovated in 2011 with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. To cap off the day, Forest Service employees led a group hike through the renovated trails.

The National Forests in Florida have been involved with the program since 1994, and through the years many employees have stepped up to the plate to speak about careers in the Forest Service.

“We want to give them every opportunity to talk to people working in different professions,” said Rick Whitfield, a training coordinator with the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs. “Like all of us, you start out thinking I want to do one thing, then you’re exposed to something else and you change your mind.”

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