Calling all teens looking for an outdoor adventure! Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) brings together teens ages 16-19 from all over the country to spend a month working on a conservation crew. This June I joined a crew in Washington and was able to gain so much from the opportunity. Not only did I make new friends and had a blast camping outdoors for a month, but I also gained job training, educational knowledge, and leadership experience.
We got to work all over Washington alongside many different professionals. Our first week was spent working with the Army Corps of Engineers near John Day Dam clearing an old day use site to reopen it to the public. We got to enjoy the place before anyone else, spending our breaks from work having water fights in the nearby stream, and our afternoons hiking up to see a view of the Columbia River.
We then moved on to Mt Rainier National Park, doing trail maintenance with someone from the official trail crew, Ari Songer. We spent our days in the beautiful old-growth forest eating berries and following bear tracks as we worked to cut back trees and shrubs, clear the path of rocks from recent landslides, and create rain water drainage to protect the trail. Hiking and working together with our yellow helmets and tools, we looked like the Seven Dwarfs, with Ari as our Snow White. We got to bond with her, learning all sorts of things about her career in addition to various life or trailwork tips and plant identification techniques.
We later spent two weeks with the Capitol Land Trust in Olympia and met so many incredible people who had dedicated their lives to a mission we could contribute to. The Capitol Land Trust is an organization that buys land (such as farms, old golf courses, and donated land) throughout the city of Olympia and turns them into natural preserves. This protects the local environment but also creates a closer bond between people and nature by bringing the latter into the community. They now have over 6,000 acres of land preserved, each with different backgrounds and environments. While working there, our camp was set up along the beautiful Puget Sound on a preserve that used to be an old ranch. We ate our dinners with a view over the marsh, and spent our free time reading books and playing cards on the porch of what was left of the old ranch home. We got to work in three other unique preserves and did our best to make them more welcoming to the community. We removed invasive species, built fences to protect sensitive areas, and put up informational signs about the preserve. We also created an outdoor classroom and cleared trails.
Northwest Youth Corps also has a lot to offer from an educational standpoint. About once a week we had speakers from different organisations come to tell us about their specific jobs and give us tips. We met park rangers, a botanist, zoologist, an urban planner and a water treatment analyst. Meeting all these wonderful people and hearing about all these professions opened our eyes to different career possibilities. Almost every day we would also have a quick lesson about different topics like plant identification, tool maintenance, worker rights, and communication, and through these lessons I even earned high school credit for my time at NYC.
This program is also a dedicated leadership program, and as the weeks went by our adult crew leads would slowly give us more autonomy over our responsibilities. By the end we were basically running our own conservation crew, delegating tasks, making crucial decisions, and getting everything done efficiently.
The eight hour work days were long, but rewarding and full of crew bonding. I honestly loved waking up at 6 am, getting into my work clothes, tying up my hefty work boots and unzipping the tent to reveal the misty morning covering the mossy forest, ready to start a busy work day with a cup of tea and some extra sweet oatmeal. When the weekend rolled around we were able to fill them with beach days, hikes, and even snowball fights.
The people I met were all such unique people, each with completely different backgrounds and personalities. Sometimes our only commonality was being out here in the middle of Washington, but we learned to cooperate and get to know each other until we created a second family. Waking up before the sun and spending the whole day outdoors in the fresh air, pushing ourselves physically, intellectually and socially really brought us together.
I came out of this program with new friends, wonderful memories, work experience, more knowledge, and a motivating $1200 stipend. I wholeheartedly recommend this program to anyone ready for an exciting adventure.