Youth protect public lands along St. Croix National Scenic Riverway as part of 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

Conservation Corps youth take a break after a day of pulling buckthorn on National Park Service lands along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, east of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Editor’s Note: This week Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis visited St. Paul Minnesota to sign an agreement with the National League of Cities and the YMCA to better coordinate efforts to get kids outdoors, as part of the Secretary’s youth initiative. This week we will highlight the additional efforts of an organization supporting the Secretary’s goals for her initiative in the Twin Cities area through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.

This summer, youth will play in vital role in helping to protect biodiversity and improve visitors’ experience along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The St. Croix River, with its proximity to the Twin Cities metropolitan area and federal designation as a Wild and Scenic River, is a popular outdoor recreation area for paddling, hiking, biking and birdwatching. Participants, ages 15-18, and young adult AmeriCorps members will work in crews of eight, along shoreline and public lands in this national park to remove invasive buckthorn and purple loosestrife that destroy native vegetation and critical habitat. Corpsmembers will also be involved with identifying and mapping threatened areas.

The St. Croix projects will engage a total of 60 diverse youth participants from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps program operator, in partnership with the National Park Service. The projects will be completed over eight weeks of the 2014 the Summer Youth Corps program.

Kara Ulman, an AmeriCorps youth crew leader, spent a week working with her crew on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway during a previous summer session. Despite the hard work, she said the youth understood how valuable their service was to the community. “This project was one of the most demanding projects we had physically. It was hot, and required a lot of work to chop down and haul buckthorn trees and honeysuckle plants of varying sizes,” she said. “One of my participants commented on how meaningful the project was to him because he felt that the work we were doing removing invasive species was really helping the environment.”

“This project is a powerful opportunity to connect diverse young people to the outdoors, while at the same time completing natural resource work that is valued by the community,” said Eric Antonson, Youth Programs Director. “The crew members develop critical 21st century skills and learn from National Park Service professionals. It is a life-changing experience for the young people involved.”

-Submitted by Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa

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