Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How Do You Define Summer Break?

Pulling invasive plants around Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery.
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
It was a beautiful day along the Columbia River in Washington. Almost a hundred cars were parked along the entryway to Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery. Some pulled boards, paddles, and sails from SUV rooftops while others changed into wetsuits to enjoy one of the country's top windsurfing destinations. Adventurers both young and old grabbed their gear and marched down towards the Columbia for a day of wind surfing, paddle boarding and swimming. But if you looked a little closer, a group of seven seemed to stand out. They weren't wearing swimsuits, but bright orange safety vests. They weren’t carrying surfboards, but shovels. The only thing that didn't seem so different was their contagious excitement and the smiles on their faces.

Mental and physical warm-ups before a hard day's work!
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Choosing Conservation
This stand-out group of seven (six high school students and their mentor) made the choice to spend their summer a bit differently. Rather than take the leisurely route like many kids their age, they joined the Forest Youth Success (FYS) crew. This organization recruits high school-aged students from Skamania County, Washington to spend a couple months of their summer break working on public lands. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Pacific Region Connecting People with Nature Team supported this FYS crew with funding from the National Conservation Training Center to help with travels, projects, and even a rewarding paycheck for the students. Through this program, these passionate and hardworking teens gain real-life work experience in conservation, learn new skills, work with mentors from different organizations, and truly make a difference for and a connection with the natural world in their own backyards.

Pulling invasive Scotch Broom from the nature trail.
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Passion & Pride
This day, the crew would remove invasive plants from the natural areas around the hatchery. They began the morning with mental and physical warm-ups led by their adult mentor, Joby. "If you could live in any decade for one week, what would it be and why?" Each student took turns sharing their answers, from the 1700's to the year 3000, while instructing the rest of the crew through a physical warm-up of their choosing. The youth mentors then lead a safety talk, before all hitting the trails. The group split in two, half down towards the river to pull False Indigo while the others staying inland hacked away at Scotch Broom. It didn't take me long to notice there was something unique about this group. They were eager to work, they were eager to help each other, and their obvious pride from their day's work offered a brand new way to think about "summer break."

Working hard against a back drop of recreation!
Photo Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Work & Play
Before lunch had even struck, both groups had almost completed the work they planned for the whole day. At lunch, the sight of hundreds of wind surfers flying through the air with Mt. Hood peeking out from the trees offered quite a contrast from the eight-hour work day ticking along right in front of me. But in the glow of the work crew's accomplished, smiling faces, who's to say who was enjoying themselves more?

For our full set of photos please visit our Facebook page & for more information about the Forest Youth Success Crew, please visit theirs!

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