What is a Youth Conservation Corps? I had the same question myself when Hannah D., the leader of the Holyoke YCC got in touch with me earlier this summer. As it turns out, the YCC is a thriving program created and managed by our affiliate, The Trustees of Reservations. Each summer, The Trustees hires teams of five young adults in cities around Massachusetts to participate in meaningful land conservation efforts. The Holyoke team serves all of western MA, so they have a busy schedule, but luckily, HLT had the privilege of working with them for two days in July.
When I got the news that HLT would have two whole days of help from the YCC, I wanted to figure out a way to give them work that would be useful for us, but inspirational and educational for the group. Scheduling two days of invasive weed pulling was out of the question – I knew they would have already done plenty of that during the first month of their work. Instead, the mosaic of jobs that I had on my own plate began to coalesce into an exciting and productive two days for the YCC.
The first job that I wanted to finish was the construction of trailhead kiosks for HLT’s two properties in Williamsburg. The kiosks had been built by a volunteer from the Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee, but they needed staining and finishing before they could be planted – a perfect job for five teenagers! I met the YCC on their first day at the home of the volunteer who built the kiosks and we spent the morning getting to know each other while staining the kiosks. The kids got to talk to two members of the WWTC and get a sense for what trails stewardship can look like on a municipal and community scale.
That task completed, we headed down to the Bradley Sanctuary where there were downed logs, water damage, and overgrowth plaguing the trails. After lunching alongside Nichols Brook (and spending time hunting for frogs), the crew got right to work. I have noticed that some youth groups can seem disengaged from their work, but not the YCC! All five were hard and capable workers. During that afternoon, we got the fallen logs entirely cleared from the trail, redefined the lesser-used inner trails, and installed a water bar where water damage was taking place.
The second day was focused more on learning and exploring than on heavy labor, but we got a lot of important work done anyways. We met at the Hastings Property, a parcel that has been under Conservation Restriction for over a decade that was recently donated in full to HLT. After a lesson on map, compass, and GPS navigation, we split into groups to mark the boundaries of the property. We were successful in marking almost all of the 62-acre property’s boundaries – the only ones we left off were those on the edge of a steep ridge. Prentice Road, which forms the northwest boundary of the property, is a popular walking area for Worthington residents. In response to this use, we then scouted the property for areas of interest where we could potentially build a hiking trail.
Those tasks finished with flying colors, we headed down the street to Kinne Brook Farm, a property protected under CR by HLT. Farmer Bart Niswonger met us there to talk about what it means to be a CR landowner and show us his Scotch Highland Cattle. We then helped Bart demolish over 30 feet of old fence line – a task that the kids really enjoyed!
I was sad to say goodbye to the YCC at the end of our last day. It was truly a joy to work with such motivated, inquisitive young people and to offer them the opportunity to engage with a variety of aspects of land conservation. From my experience in engaging youth in the outdoors, the YCC program is one of the most effective in offering young people a view into the world of land conservation and I hope the program thrives and continues to spread throughout Massachusetts.
–Hannah Chamberlain, Hilltown Land Trust, AmeriCorps Land Stewardship Coordinator