|Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010|
Saguaro National Park was invigorated with fresh energy this summer when it hired ten local high school students to work for the park’s first Youth Conservation Corps program. Led by three park staff, the crew spent eight weeks working on a variety of projects in southern Arizona.
The Saguaro YCC crew traveled to some of the most beautiful places in the southwest. Their summer began in the high desert of Saguaro National Park. From there they traveled to Chiricahua National Monument and Coronado National Memorial. The program finished with a 10-day trip to the Manning Cabin – a ten-mile, 4,600-foot climb into Saguaro’s Rincon Mountains. Over the course of the summer, the crew stained bridges, cleaned campgrounds, constructed fencing, and repaired over 20 miles of trail.
They also helped with a few unique projects that highlighted the intersection of culture and ecology. In June, the crew was invited to spend a day with members of the Tohono O’odham Nation during their annual Saguaro fruit harvest. The enrollees picked, seeded, and cooked the saguaro fruit into syrup. While at Coronado National Monument, the YCC crew was asked to help build protective cages for baby agave plants as part of a larger volunteer effort to revegetate areas impacted by fence construction along the Arizona-Mexico border.
In addition to working on conservation projects, an hour each day was set aside for an environmental education lesson that focused mainly on the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. With the park as their classroom, the enrollees had the unique opportunity to learn through experiential investigations of their surroundings. Park rangers and biologists also gave presentations to the crew about local park issues.
One crew member, Denise Rebeil, spoke about what she learned: “I learned a lot…about what I can do to help the environment. I also learned more about my area… trails around here that you can hike that are very beautiful.”
YCC was not just about working hard, but about playing hard as well. Swimming holes, caves, sunset hikes, canyons, horseshoes and campfire games concluded many of their days. There was even an 80’s dance party. At Fort Bowie National Historical Site and Coronado National Memorial the crew dressed in period clothing and reenacted the lives of early American and Spanish settlers.
At the end of the season, many of the YCC enrollees expressed a desire to work for the National Park Service in the future.
“I would love to work for the National Park Service. I would mostly be interested in being a part of the trail crew—camping in the mountains and working on trails,” said Chris Rohr, a YCC enrollee. Another enrollee said that he now wants to work as a wildland firefighter to pay for college.
The impact YCC had on these participants is difficult to convey. After two months immersed in the wilds of Southern Arizona, all the crew members say they have changed.
“I look at things from a new perspective,” Denise said. “This was definitely more than a job for me. It was a journey we were all going on to experience everything that life had to give us.”