Blazing a Trail

Community partners launch green careers initiative for Charlottesville youth

Charlottesville, VA – In a (literally) groundbreaking collaboration, the City of Charlottesville, through their Community Attention Youth Internship Program (CAYIP), is joining forces with the Shenandoah National Park Trust (SNPT), Rivanna Trail Foundation (RTF), Appalachian Conservation Corps (ACC), and Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club(CAMBC) to pilot Trailblazers: Charlottesville to Shenandoah, a program designed to cultivate and empower urban youth to see themselves in “green” jobs.

Trailblazers arose from a community need to reverse the growing disconnect between America’s youth and the natural world, introduce new audiences to the outdoors, and build a skilled workforce committed to preserving local natural spaces.

In Charlottesville, that natural world is rarely more than a few blocks away. The Rivanna Trail encircles most of the city, providing both access to nature and alternative transportation for residents and visitors. Yet only a very small percentage of those residents and visitors make use of the wooded path.

“Those of us that use trails regularly were lucky enough to have someone guide us into the woods and introduce us to nature,” said Tommy Safranek, Charlottesville’s Bike & Pedestrian Coordinator and an RTF Board Member. “Unfortunately, many of our youth have no idea they are just steps away from an amazing network of trails.”

Annie Sechrist, the city’s CAYIP Coordinator, sees Trailblazers as an invitation for Charlottesville’s teens to build a relationship with nature, particularly those who may have faced barriers to accessing natural spaces in the past. “Our hope is that by providing teens with the chance to immerse themselves in local natural spaces, they will develop an appreciation of our natural resources, an increased awareness of career opportunities in conservation and resource management, and a greater sense of self,” she explained.

This summer, individuals aged 16-18 in Charlottesville can become Trailblazers to engage with the outdoors while learning conservation and trail maintenance skills and actively contributing to their community. Participants will spend five weeks working on the Rivanna Trail and other local trail systems while enjoying recreational opportunities in their city. The program will culminate with an intensive three-day trail work experience in Shenandoah National Park, giving participants an opportunity to meet and work alongside National Park Service employees.

“This program is critical because it creates a first step for youth to both develop themselves and give back to the community.” said ACC Corps Director Zach Foster. “With a $15 per hour wage, free training and equipment, and easy transportation, this program opens a door toward new opportunities for their future educational and work pathways.”

Ultimately, the goal of Trailblazers is to empower the next generation of outdoor leaders and champions for public lands, both in their hometown and beyond.

Bobby Casteen, a CAMBC board member, said, “The Trailblazers Initiative is important because it promotes collaboration between community organizations to create change, and it can influence youth in our community to see the value in community engagement and service.”

Applications are now open through CAYIP, and the seven-week program is scheduled to run from June 24 to August 4, 2024. This opportunity is open to all youth, regardless of skills, experience, or background. The application window will close on May 1st.

Trailblazers: Charlottesville to Shenandoah is funded by the program partners, with support from Public Lands. Please contact Ethan Serr at if you or your business or organization would like to support this collaboration.

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