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Youth Volunteering in Golden Gate National Park

by Galena S.

“Number 3, number 3 number 2, number 2 number 9, number 9 number 9, number 9 number 5!” The Student Conservation Association (SCA) youth crew chants out their rhythm game to warm up before hiking into National Park Service land to perform trail work at the Phleger Estate.

“Who has the first aid kit?” SCA crew leader Katrina Ellis shouts as the seven members grab their loaded backpacks for the day. Despite the early morning hour, these local teenage youth are ready to get started.

Having worked together closely for the last few weeks, they feel like old friends—heading out to do some valuable work. Phleger Estate was chosen as a project site for its proximity to the volunteers’ local communities, as well as the fact that it is in need of significant maintenance and restoration work.

The southernmost part of the Golden Gate National Parks (and also the most recently acquired), this swath of hilly redwoods is getting some TLC from seven spirited youth and two crew leaders. As National Park Service Trail Crew Leader Adrian Villalba says, “We really rely on the local SCA crews to help us accomplish our goals in this part of our park. Our crews can’t get down here enough to do all that there is to do. Each year they come back, adding to the good work done previously and I hope we can add to this legacy.”

The youth crew members are residents of East Palo Alto, one of the lowest-income communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of the crew members have had little or no exposure to the area’s national parklands, and all are new to trail maintenance work.

In partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, these SCA trail crew members have been improving the trails in their local national park over the course of five weeks. “Before I came to this program I never knew what any of this trail work was about,” says crew member John “JJ” Bivins. “I know now how important taking care of the earth really is.”

At this point in their service project they have dug 47 drains to move water off the trail, brushed and out-sloped two miles of trail, installed over 40 check steps, and laid over four cubic yards of material to prevent erosion and repair ruts that were beginning to develop. They aren’t finished yet.

With roughly two weeks to go until they start thinking about the school year again, their total contributions continue to grow. Some crew members will join up for another summer, or become a Crew Leader Apprentice under more experienced leaders like Katrina and her co-leader Miguel. One Apprentice, Darius, appreciates the opportunity to work on trails. “It’s hard work but it’s also very enjoyable and gives you a sense of pride when you are finished,” he says. “If it were not for this program, I wouldn’t be able to experience the outdoors like some of my peers.”

The next time you are hiking in the Golden Gate National Parks, look for a group of young workers from SCA wearing yellow hard hats and blue shirts, and thank them for their efforts. If you don’t see them, stop and listen—you may hear them in a nearby redwood grove, playing that favorite warm-up rhythm game.

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