This summer has been a busy one for young people working on public lands projects in Utah. Hundreds of them get jobs with the Youth Conservation Corps, headquartered at Utah State University. They maintain trails, restore wildlife habitat, rip out invasive species - and keep at it as long as weather permits. For some, says director Sean Damitz, it's their first outdoor experience and their first job - and there are lessons just as important as the hard work.
"This is more than a job. It's an experience that's going to help you no matter where you go in life - how to work on a team, in that higher-stress environment where people are tired, they're dirty, they're trying to get something done, they're trying to work as a team."
Damitz says they recruit from local high schools for the five-week summer programs, and get applicants from all over the nation for the longer AmeriCorps positions. He says people realize it's a good introduction to a conservation career.
"It's a real good experience for folks, if they want to get their foot in the door, seeing what it's like to work with a multitude of public-land management agencies who, from an academic standpoint, really examine some of the natural resource conservation issues that we do have out in the West."
The AmeriCorps workers get an education stipend when their contracts are up, and Damitz says the high school participants also have a chance to earn up to three college credits for their work. The Utah crews also work on projects in southern Idaho and western Wyoming. This summer, the program received a combination of federal grants and private money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to expand its Bilingual Youth Corps into Salt Lake County. In 15 states, funds were awarded to put more than 20,000 young people to work this year on public lands.