By Ben Richardson
Developing a strong cadre of young trail stewards can be a challenge for many National Trails, and can be especially difficult for National Historic Trails. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVNHT) discovered a way to combat this issue by enlisting the services of the Youth Conservation Corps.
Modeled after the historic Civilian Conservation Corps program, the YCC is a summer youth employment program that engages young people in meaningful work experiences on national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and fish hatcheries while developing an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility. The OVNHT YCC program was eight weeks long and the members were from the local commuting area. The YCC members were paid for their 40-hour work weeks.
Many YCC programs at parks and forests spend the entirety of their time solely at that location. For the OVNHT and by virtue of being a long-distance trail, the youth had opportunities to work in different counties, states and parks along the trail corridor. The youth were also exposed to many different agencies apart from the National Park Service. They were able to work alongside staff from National Forests, State Parks, and local recreation programs.
The youth worked mostly on trail maintenance for existing trail, but they were also able to cut brand new trail right in their own community. Through a partnership with the local utility board, the NPS used the YCC crew to begin building a loop trail around a local reservoir that coincides with the OVNHT. The YCC members also installed new interpretive waysides and benches at an OVNHT-partner state park, constructed split-rail fencing around a historic graveyard, and assisted with greenway construction along the trail corridor.
The YCC members also took field trips to the Cradle of Forestry in the Pisgah National Forest, a team-building trip to Winthrop University, and visited several of the surrounding National Parks in the area. Additionally, the crew joined with three other YCC groups and headed to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to help their trail crew with maintenance. All of these trips were intended to instill in the youth a sense of environmental stewardship and understanding of land management.
Many of the YCC members had never been camping or traveled outside their hometown. Being able to travel with YCC and the NPS to visit many different parks and forests at both the federal and state level was life-changing for the members. And, the youth gained valuable skills in trail maintenance and civic responsibility that are sure to stay with them for years to come. For most of the students, working with the NPS through YCC was their first job. Surely, the skills gained from YCC will support them in their future careers!
Ben Richardson is the Chief of Planning and Partnerships, Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks for the National Park Service