Is it possible to find a summer job that lets you be outside, learn new skills, get educated about the area’s environmental richness and gives you the occasional free sandwich? Some Bay Area teens did just that. This summer crews of local youth, ages 16 to 19, are working in parks all over the Bay Area, including Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, and Point Reyes National Seashore, all thanks to federal stimulus money. The program is a collaboration of several nonprofits and government agencies, including the San Mateo County Parks Association, San Mateo County Parks Foundation, JobTrain, the California Coastal Conservancy, and the Student Conservation Association.
I recently visited one crew (dubbed “The Green Force”) working in San Bruno Mountain State and County Park. All the teens are local, from Daly City, Redwood City and East Palo Alto. This team of nine youth and two crew leaders has cleared five miles of trail on San Bruno Mountain in the last two weeks. Today they’ve moved on to eliminating “social trails,” created by bushwhacking hikers making their own shortcuts.
On the mountain I spoke with Marshawn Garner, a crew leader in training, on a clear day that let us see Mount Tamalpias, Mount Diablo and the buildings of both Oakland and San Francisco. He originally wanted to go into law enforcement but was convinced by a mentor to apply for a job with the Student Conservation Association last summer, after graduating from Woodside High School. He now plans to be a park ranger after he graduates from Alabama State. As for his current job, Marshawn loves it. “It’s great: I get to have fun, help the environment, work out, have a nice view, and get paid.” He interrupts himself to point out a hawk gliding below us. “I had never seen a view like this before I started working here. A lot of my friends didn’t know how many parks there were so close by, or even that they were allowed to come up here.”
Garner says about the hardest project he’s worked on this summer, a mile-long single track they transformed into a wider, all-purpose trail, which his crew had to clear of overgrown plants and then pave with rock. After the completion, hikers came by to compliment it and thank the teens for their work. “It was better on the knees afterwards,” he says.
By removing nonnative species that threaten native plants on which local butterflies depend, the crew is also helping three species of endangered butterflies that live on San Bruno Mountain: the Mission blue, the Callippe silverspot, and the San Bruno elfin. (See previous Bay Nature articles on San Bruno Mountain, the elfin butterfly, and the Callippe silverspot.)
Cecily Harris, of the San Mateo County Department of Parks, has a list of benefits of the program that is as long as Marsawn’s. “The park gets work done on the trails that wouldn’t happen otherwise with rangers stretched thin. Kids in the community are exposed to the parks. The public greatly appreciates the work. And there is a feeder program for future park employees.”
It’s not all work for the crew. After four days of work, every Friday they have a day of environmental education or enrichment. The previous Friday they went to the California Academy of Sciences, and earlier Fridays have included a camping and canoeing trip at China Camp state Park and a visit to Coyote Point Museum.
While the crew broke for lunch, Dr. Lynne Trulio, the chair of the environmental science department at San Jose State University, spoke to them about green jobs in the coming economy and how to train and educate themselves for these jobs. The neatly brushed trails above suggest they are well on their way.