An unsung army of students maintains our national parks

  • Student Conservation Association

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, in a special issue about outdoor education: Spreading the gospel

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.

But 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 park's scars.

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 resource field.

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 backpacking trip.

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 country.

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 trail design.

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 constituency.

For more information, contact SCA headquarters at P.O. Box 550, Charlestown, NH 03603-0550 (603/543-1700).

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.