The second in my series of articles on the Virginia State Parks Youth Conservation Corps – an example of government at its best, preparing youth for the future.
Year after year we tell park staff – the Youth Conservation Corps crew will get more done than you expect. Even parks that have had crews year after year are ultimately surprised at how much our crews get done in three weeks.
The Smith Mountain Lake crew pose with the fish habitat structures they built
The Virginia State Parks Youth Conservation Corps is a summer three week residential program for youth 14-17 years old. Ten youth live in a Virginia State Park with three supervisors college aged or older and work on projects that support the park. Generally the ten youth have never met before and come from diverse backgrounds, Within a couple of days our goal is to have them working in a cohesive team. And somehow that happens.
A mountain vista backdrop to the Grayson Highlands crew’s clearing project
While the program was the brain child of Virginia State Parks Director Joe Elton, the man behind the program is Gaston Rouse the Virginia State Parks Director for Community Engagement and Volunteerism. A retired Colonel, Gaston took some of the best from his military experience when he designed the program. I’ve worked with him from the beginning and what he has accomplished with this program is amazing. He tells the Supervisors at their training that the group is paramount. The youth have to learn to sacrifice their individualism to work well together to meet program goals.
The False Cape crew demonstrate teamwork
The program also works because of the supervisors. We have three supervisors for the ten crew members. The crew is designed to split into two teams of 5 with an adult supervisor. The third supervisor, designated the lead, is in charge of logistics and working with the park staff to keep the crew ready for the next job.
The False Cape crew learn to kayak
What do they do? The goal is sustainable projects. Some crews will focus on a large, signature project. Others work on multiple projects. Trail work – everything from developing new trails, clearing vistas and just lopping branches to keep the trail clear is always a mainstay. Some crews work at multiple parks. Other projects include invasive species management, coastal cleanups, water quality testing, park beautification projects, and erosion control.
The Grayson Highlands crew participates in a fish study in partnership with Trout Unlimited
In addition to the work, the crew participates in the great environmental and cultural education programs the parks offer. They also leave the park to visit local historical sites and museums and even visit other state parks in the area.
The Belle Isle crew visits the Virginia Holocaust Museum
We also make sure they enjoy the outdoor recreation opportunities in our parks – swimming, hiking, canoeing, kayaking and even horseback riding.
Crews near New River Trail State Park get an opportunity for a
horseback trail ride like Grayson Highlands this year
The Chippokes crew enjoy canoeing
While in the program, crewmembers make their own meals. They shop for their food, clean their living area, do their own laundry. In short, they learn how to take care of themselves.
Crewmembers at Grayson Highlands prepare the evening meal
At the end of the program our plan is for the youth go home with nine new best friends, a sense of accomplishment and working with a team to get the job done. They learn what it feels like to rely on each other. And we hope they develop a love and appreciation for the outdoors.
Park Manager Harvey Thompson joins the Grayson Highlands crew for a great view
Next year we hope to hold a program in every park for out 10th anniversary. Crew member applications will be on line by January 1, 2012. Look for the Supervisor applications this fall. For more information check out the website and our Youth Conservation Corps Facebook page.