After wildfires raged through Yellowstone National Park in 1988, Park Service employees were overwhelmed: Trails and bridges had to be rebuilt, campsites restored and trees planted. The magnitude of the job was depressing.
their spirits were soon lifted by nearly 1,000 enthusiastic
teenagers wearing hard hats. Organized by the Student Conservation
Association, they worked during the next three years to heal the
The Student Conservation
Association has long been a powerhouse supplier of environmentally
minded volunteers to national parks. The students supply labor in
exchange for experience and the chance to spend time outdoors in
wild and spectacular country.
Founded in 1957,
SCA is the brainchild of Elizabeth Cushman Titus, a student at
Vassar College in New York who created it for her senior thesis.
She modeled it after President Franklin D. Roosevelt's
Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which put unemployed
people to work restoring and maintaining public lands. But SCA soon
evolved into more than a workhorse for the Park Service. It is now
a stepping stone for those interested in conservation careers: More
than half of its participants typically land jobs in the natural
Over the years, some 18,000
students between the ages of 16 and 18 have participated in SCA's
summer work crews - building trails and improving wildlife habitat
at hundreds of parks, including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and
Denali. Housing, food and equipment are provided, and financial aid
is available for transportation to work sites. After three weeks of
hard work, the young people are rewarded with a weeklong
For college-age students, SCA
has developed a resource-assistant program that connects them with
professional resource managers. In exchange for housing, a living
allowance and reimbursement for travel, students work full time as
naturalists and educators in parks all over the
SCA has also begun a program to steer
young urban women and minorities into natural-resource careers.
Starting in high school, recruits participate in summer backcountry
work crews and monthly community restoration projects, such as
rehabilitating the polluted Duwamish River in Seattle. Later,
participants receive career counseling and advice on internships.
Many students come from a background that discourages jobs in the
outdoors, says president Scott Izzo, but once a network of support
and experience is established, some of the kids get hooked.
For a wide variety of adults already in the
conservation field, including trail crew leaders or professionals
seeking leadership training, SCA also offers a flexible, five-day
course that teaches skills such as wildland restoration and urban
Since public-land and resource
agencies fund a chunk of the nonprofit group's programs, the budget
shutdowns were a setback, says Jay Satz, director of field
operations. For the first time in seven years the group isn't
growing, he adds, and the high school program has been reduced by
some 20 percent from previous years. It's ironic, he says: "SCA
programs are designed to lead to a career in resource management,
but everyone is downsizing."
But SCA president
Scott Izzo is optimistic that SCA will maintain its track record of
catapulting young people into hard-to-get conservation jobs. In
addition to publishing Earth Work, a monthly newsletter that lists
jobs and internships in the environmental field, Izzo wants to take
advantage of more sophisticated computer services to improve
networking between job-seekers and conservation organizations.
Whether alumni enter the conservation workforce or not, says Izzo,
SCA's main goal is the creation of an environmental
For more information, contact SCA
headquarters at P.O. Box 550, Charlestown, NH 03603-0550