Hannah Sievert/The Daily Astorian
Hannah Sievert/The Daily Astorian
Not many high school students would describe their dream summer plans as chopping down invasive plants in the middle of the forest.
But the eight students participating in the Student Conservation Association program have spent a week this summer doing just that, and several said they wouldn’t have it any other way.
On Wednesday, the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park held the second annual youth work party to help clear invasive Scotch broom from park-owned land, called the Yeon property, in Warrenton. Students from several youth programs played a part, including the Student Conservation Association, the Lewis and Clark Youth Conservation Corps and college interns from Northwest Youth Corps.
Lewis and Clark staff and volunteers have been working to eradicate the fields of Scotch broom that has taken over the Yeon property for about six years. Scotch broom chokes out native plants and changes the soil’s chemistry to be more nitrogen-rich, which can be more inviting to other invasive plants.
While these cleanup events are helpful to clear Scotch broom, staff at Lewis and Clark also want to expose high school students to future careers with the National Park Service.
“We really want to give them experience and information so they know what’s possible for them,” Carla Cole, the natural resources program manager for Lewis and Clark, said. “We would love to have these kids wanting to work in the park service, but whether or not that happens, it’s also just that we do want to instill in them understanding and appreciation for the national parks.”
The Student Conservation Association students who attended on Wednesday had already spent the past week working to eradicate invasive plant species from the Yeon property while camping in tents nearby. The national program aims to teach students about hands-on environment conservation.
Though the work is labor-intensive, the participants, who are from across the U.S., described loving it.
“I love camping and the outdoors, so this is a great way to help out and meet people who have the same interests in conservation,” said Julian Lichtenfeld, a student from Florida.
With the week of work they already completed, the students saw the many piles of Scotch broom they’ve helped eradicate. The visual aid helped keep spirits high.
“An hour and a half ago this was all covered in Scotch broom, and now it’s stumps and open field,” Carmen Simons, a student from New York, said. “It’s rewarding to see that and know seeds under here will be getting sunlight and water. Things can start growing. That’s why I think it’s fun.”
Youth programs like the Scotch broom cleanup can be effective in inspiring students to consider careers in the national parks early on. Cole said many parks staff she works with started out in one of the programs. Getting involved with a parks program or internship can give job candidates a leg up when applying for full-time positions, which are highly competitive.
Grant Bassett, a college senior from Texas, started out working in the Youth Conservation Corps in 2014. Since then, he’s worked at national parks every summer through the Pathways program. He plans on applying for a full-time job with the national parks next year.
Now, as a seasonal biological technician at Lewis and Clark, Bassett spends time eradicating invasive species and working with students in the program he started out in.
“They’re sweet kids,” Bassett said. “It’s cool getting to be a part of their development.”
The excitement and interest can also inspire veteran staff.
“It’s hard to keep the passion up every day, but it’s neat working with these kids,” Cole said. “So many of them get really excited by the work we’re doing. Seeing them get excited about the work helps me get excited about it too.”