These campers make us all happy

NH Union Leader
Monday, May 27, 2013

"Scene in Manchester" Columnist Katie McQuaid on High Schoolers' great work around NH.

Six hundred and seventy tires dumped at Rock Rimmon are now gone, thanks to a group of Manchester high school students and their mentors from the Student Conservation Association. They also helped pick up 115 pounds of trash at Jenness State Beach in Rye and cleared old railroad ties and other debris from the Rockingham Recreation Trail near Mammoth Road.

Lan Tran, Tyler Pitts, Julia Walsh and Michael Milkavich, the four SCA interns who have been leading the high school students, came to New Hampshire for a 10-month internship program. I spoke with them last week and learned about the conservation service projects they are tackling with their high schoolers and how they are preparing them for an opportunity to spend two weeks this summer camping and maintaining trails in northern New Hampshire.

It all sounded like a great internship opportunity, even the cleaning and camping parts, until I learned that Tran, Pitts, Walsh and Milkavich are among a larger group of SCA members who have been living in rustic cabins at Bear Brook State Park since January.

The term “rustic cabin” doesn’t sound appealing to me until about June.

But thankfully, these hearty kids, all between 18 and 25 years old, were willing to come from all over the country and brave a New Hampshire winter in order to maintain our natural spaces, and teach local young people how to be good stewards of the environment.

The Student Conservation Association may be one of our state’s best-kept secrets.

It is a national organization with a presence here in the Granite State training young people to protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and community green space.

You can visit www.thesca.org to learn more about its interesting history, its many programs, and its National Conservation Center in Charlestown.

Zach Dumont, a 2012 Memorial High School graduate, is an alumnus of the SCA’s Manchester high school program.

In his two years with SCA, he said he spent 400 hours on conservation projects.

“It was one of the best things I did during my high school time,” Dumont said.

He learned about conservation, but he also learned leadership and teamwork skills, especially during the weeks he spent camping.

“Working and living with seven other people you don’t know out in the woods is very challenging,” he said. Today he has a good job with Goodwill. “SCA looks fantastic on a resume,” he added.

In addition to the SCA members working with high school students, others have been working in Manchester and Allenstown classrooms since April teaching environmental education to more than 1,000 fourth- and fifth-graders.

This month, they are hosting more than 900 students on field trips to Bear Brook to teach them about aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

They also provide after-school programming and help out at the Salvation Army’s Kids’ Cafe.

As summer approaches, the work of the SCA members will be appreciated by hikers and other visitors to our state parks and national forests.

Many members will spend the next six months maintaining and repairing existing trail networks.

They also build visitor structures such as cabins and pavilions. SCA members in the Interpretive Ranger program will teach visitors to our state parks about the natural and cultural history of the area, as well as safety information.

So who pays for it all? The SCA members are not paid much, but they do receive a living allowance and health insurance during their term of service.

They are also eligible for an Americorps award they can use to pay for college tuition or loans.

The revenue model is complicated.

The staff does a lot of grant writing and relies on donations from businesses and individuals.

But a lot of the revenue comes from government agencies, like the state Department of Resources and Economic Development, which hires SCA crews to do work at state parks and other places.

That funding, as you can expect, has been shrinking. So, if you would like to hire an SCA team to perform conservation work in your municipality, non-profit or even on private land, contact NH Corp Director Teresa McNamee at 485-2191.