Young Conservationists Learn and Serve in Shenandoah This Summer

Today’s post comes from Zach Foster of the Great Appalachian Valley Conservation Corps. If you’d like to support projects like the Shenandoah Youth Corps, click here.

If you were walking through Big Meadows Campground last week on Thursday around 8:00 PM you might have noticed six youths and their two crew leaders circled around a picnic table in the Big Meadows Campground. There were no faces lit by the pale glow of a cell phone and there were no stern parents giving ignored instructions to help clean up.

Instead you would have seen this: In the center of the group was a battered green Coleman stove, a gas lantern, and a tidy line of plastic wash bins full of the meal’s dishes. Everyone’s voices were slightly raised to be heard over the clatter of plates being washed relay style and the rush of the gas lantern. If you were close enough to listen in, you’d hear them talking about the work of the day- setting new steps in worn out trails or maybe a lighthearted argument about who carried more buckets soil from the archaeological survey site earlier in the week.

This group is the Shenandoah Youth Corps (SYC), an eight-person conservation crew with a mission to learn and serve in Shenandoah National Park. The crew is made up of youths age 15-18 from across Virginia from a variety of backgrounds with one thing in common- A curiosity to see how Shenandoah National Park runs and a desire to help with the work. The SYC is new opportunity built through a partnership with The Great Appalachian Valley Conservation Corps (GAVCC), The Shenandoah National Park Trust, and Shenandoah National Park.

Members of the SYC serve a four-week term living, working and learning at SNP on a variety of projects ranging from archaeological surveys to trail work to non-native invasive plant species management. The SYC’s drive is to connect youth to Shenandoah National Park, to build valuable life and work skills and to cultivate a sense of stewardship and responsibility for our National Park.

SYC members stay at campgrounds at SNP Monday through Friday each week of their term and work eight-hour days on challenging projects. SNP partner staff take time on the project to mentor members in their field. Members receive any camping gear they need, uniforms, food and a stipend of $290 per week. The SYC is designed to be accessible to anyone with an interest in Shenandoah National Park.

So far this summer, SYC crews have maintained trails, worked on biological surveys, supported an archeological study, helped inoculate hemlocks against wooly adelgid infestation, and maintained informational signs across the park. They’ve also had educational opportunities that range from fly fishing lessons to learning the principles of Leave No Trace.

Keep an eye out for a group of young conservationists in grey shirts with the SYC logo this summer up along Skyline Drive. You’ll see them cutting a new path for their peers and community. Take note of their work. Take note of their new confidence. They are proof that service brings out the best in these young people who are becoming Shenandoah National Park’s newest stewards.