Youth Corps teaches Summit County high schoolers the humbling power of nature, hard work
August 10, 2017
Some Summit County high schoolers are getting a lesson in environmental stewardship as the summer winds down. That means making a few bucks while learning what it takes to maintain many of the resources that make living in the mountains so unique.
The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District partnered with Steamboat Springs-based Rocky Mountain Youth Corps to offer a pilot, two-week assignment teaching area kids ages 14-16 about positions in public lands and outdoor spaces. The first week revolved around trail-building in the town of Breckenridge, and the second included five days of camping, as well as a myriad of volunteer activities, including working at a horse sanctuary and lending a hand at the local community gardens.
"We have a whole spectrum of things for them to do to expose them to different careers in natural resource management," said Jill Bryant, youth and education programs manager for the Dillon Ranger District volunteer group. "And then (it's about) giving back to their community, finding out ways and other places outside of youth corps that they can volunteer throughout the school year."
The program is part of FDRD's expanded emphasis on youth education, passing on low-impact practices in the wilderness, teamwork and even job readiness through the competitive application and interviewing process for a youth corps slot. And while mucking horse stalls, removing moss and noxious weeds from the planters of a sweaty greenhouse for minimum wage isn't necessarily glamorous work, participants now better understand all that goes into these vital responsibilities.
"This was my first time doing trail work," said 15-year-old Oliver Pattenden of Breckenridge. "You think it would be easy to make a trail, but then you actually go out and do it by hand and you realize it's a lot harder."
"I just always thought it was like, 'Oh yeah, people walk here and they form a trail," added Toril Aserlind, 15, of Silverthorne. "But it's a lot of hard work. I have a huge respect for that."
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Rock Mountain Youth Corps crew leader Chris Braun, a 2010 Summit High grad, wishes he had something like the program when he was younger.
"It's super humbling work," he said. "Being around here, you come from a sense of privilege compared to other communities in rural Colorado, so having that kind of work definitely humbles you a lot. Just being open and being comfortable in the experience has been our overall message."
The nonprofit furnishes high school and adult crews throughout northwestern Colorado to complete outdoors-focused projects as a service to the local communities. They span places such as Glenwood Springs and the Yampa Valley to smaller towns like Leadville and Meeker.
While camping out for the last week at the Blue River Campground north of Silverthorne, the group ran into some challenges, with weather that didn't exactly cooperate as evening rains consistently rolled through.
"It's been a little off lately," Michael Sarber, 16, of Breckenridge, said of the heavy showers. "But I like to help people — help them out with things they need help with — and that's most of the reason why I joined."
FDRD hopes to increase participation to perhaps a dozen kids starting next summer and possibly even expand the local youth corps to additional weeks. For the meanwhile, the small crew will wrap up the first year on Friday by helping members of the U.S. Forest Service pull down some wire fencing, and their efforts around the Summit County community had already made a significant effect.
"Our farm-share model is designed to rely on community help and internships," said Jessica Burley of the High Country Conservation Center, which oversees the community gardens. "It comes down to labor, and for us to maintain a small-scale farm we have to help, and it means the world that these kids are willing to come in and help, for sure."