Monday, March 3, 2014

Student Conservation Association's community program nominated for national partnership award

An SCA Community Crew poses with Congressman Dave
Reichert (far left, in black) on the Glacier Basin Trail in 2010
Mount Rainier National Park has nominated the Seattle office of the Student Conservation Association for a "Director's Partnership Award," recognizing 30 years of youth outreach through its Community Crew program, including 20 years at Mount Rainier.

Since 1984, the community program has engaged Seattle-area youth in local conservation activities. In 1994, the program began bringing crews to Mount Rainier for 15-day leadership projects, mostly building and repairing trails. Over the past two decades more than 750 young people have contributed more than 50,000 hours of service at the park.

In 2012, a new partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord added military families to those served by the community program. Last summer almost half of Mount Rainier's Community Crew members were from JBLM.

If the award is approved, it will be presented to SCA's Seattle office by the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis.

The full text of the nomination follows. I've added some photos of SCA crews in action over the last several years.


A 2013 crew repairs a section of the Trail of the Shadows
Thirty years ago, in 1984, the Seattle office of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) launched an initia­tive to reach out to community youth, especially those in culturally and economically diverse neighborhoods, and to create opportunities for them to participate in conservation leadership in and around Seattle. Today the program serves almost 100 high school-age students every year, and has expanded to include youth from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). Students participate during the school year in after-school and weekend projects, mostly in their own neighborhoods building trails and restoring parks, water­fronts, and urban landscapes, then join summer crews that spend two to six weeks working onsite in settings like Mount Rainier National Park. They learn about their environment through their conservation service, and through field trips and camping expeditions, exploring green jobs and career opportunities, gaining skills, and learning ways to give back to their community.

SCA first brought Community Crews to Mount Rainier National Park in 1994, and since 2000 has fielded an average of three 15-day crews per year. Participants have constructed, rebuilt, repaired, and maintained dozens of miles of trail: creating tread, installing water bars, constructing retaining walls, building bridges, clearing brush, laying gravel, planting and transplanting native species, and digging out hundreds of stumps and boulders. After Mount Rainier’s floods in 2006, Community Crews almost single-handedly rebuilt almost four miles of the Wonderland Trail above Longmire and helped reconstruct the Glacier Basin Trail.

Even more important than the program’s construction statistics, SCA’s Community Crews have introduced generations of students – and often their families and peers – to a lifetime of stewardship. Many graduates of the program go on to serve on SCA national crews, as SCA interns in positions around the country, and most significantly, as seasonal and permanent employees with the National Park Service and other agencies.

Since 1984, SCA has introduced over 750 students to conservation leadership at Mount Rainier National Park. Over the past decade alone those students have contributed 29,600 hours of service at the park. This investment in the park’s natural, cultural, and human resources will pay dividends for generations to come.

National Significance

Crew members work at Longmire in 2013
Even as the Student Conservation Association celebrates 30 years of Community Conservation in Seattle, its national influence continues to spread. SCA now has community programs in 16 cities around the country. SCA has expanded the cultural diversity of its participants through recruitment programs and partnerships with dozens of community organizations, and this in turn has brought welcome diversity into the ranks of the National Park Service, where over 40% of the students SCA introduces to NPS positions identify themselves as ethnically diverse.

Today’s SCA Conservation Crew members are tomorrow’s Park Rangers, and SCA continues to innovate to open doors to help make that happen. Programs like SCA’s National Park Service Academy seek to bridge the gap between community outreach and national service. New outreach to military families further expands SCA’s national influence. Almost half of SCA’s Mount Rainier’s crew members in 2013 came from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and will take their experiences with them as their families move to new postings all over the world.

A very specific example of SCA’s national significance will be present at the Community Program’s 30th Anniversary celebration in April: Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, whose parents served as crew leaders in Mount Rainier National Park in 1970-1971, will articulate the impact that visiting those crews had on form­ing his environmental ethic.


Community Crew members (in blue) work with the
Washington Trails Association on a section of
the Skyline Trail at Paradise in 2012
In the ever-changing world of the federal government, 30 years is a long run. Through growing and shrink­ing budgets, evolving rules for contracting, funding, and partnerships, and shifting national priorities, SCA’s Seattle office has adapted to provide consistently high quality crews and leadership. A recent initia­tive to reach out to military families has already been mentioned. Three other challenges are also worth describing.

First, in November 2006, 18 inches of rain fell in 36 hours in Mount Rainier National Park. The resulting floods washed out roads, trails, and campgrounds throughout the park. Within a month, Jay Satz, Regional Vice President of the Seattle Office of SCA, met with the park’s Superintendent to propose a new level of partnership, which would bring together park employees, conservation groups, Community Crews, and public volunteers to rebuild the park’s infrastructure. The logistics of coordinating 3500 volunteers over two years were staggering, yet SCA pulled it off and in the process helped double Mount Rainier’s level of volunteer participation. Community Crews played a key role in getting the work done, and a special Mount Rainier Recovery Corps helped organize and lead public volunteers in trail repair, landscape restoration, and campground reconstruction.

The second challenge is less specific but more far-reaching. With a limited budget to support the volunteer program, Mount Rainier National Park has never been able to guarantee long-term funding of our partnership with SCA’s Community Crews. Instead, every year involves fundraising, grant writing, and gathering of support from whatever quarter it can be found to piece together the program, often at the last minute. And yet the program has survived for over 20 years without a break. SCA’s Seattle staff has worked tirelessly to ensure survival of our Community Crews, cobbling together National Park Service funding with support from grants, donations, corporate sponsorships, and partnerships. We dream of a day when funding is guaranteed for multiple years, but in the meantime, we couldn’t be in better hands.

Third, SCA’s commitment to youth outreach must be singled out as second to none. Long-term success by such programs depends on providing young people with not just a single transformative experience, but a continuum including a second, and a third, each building on the last to culminate in employment or, at least, a lifetime commitment to conservation. No partner understands this better than SCA, and they have achieved great success in following up with Conservation Crew members to lead them to the next step in the process, both through their own programs and through partners like the North Cascades Institute and eventually the National Park Service. The National Park Service Academy is a recent example of such innovative youth outreach.

NPS Benefits

Superintendent Randy King checks in with a crew
member working in Stevens Canyon in 2011
In order for the National Park Service to fully realize its mission, it must achieve the full support and participation of the American people. SCA’s Community Crews, and their outreach to culturally and economically diverse youth, are invaluable partners with the National Park Service in reaching that goal. Young people who served on Community Crews at Mount Rainier 30 years ago are today career employees at parks around the country. This summer’s crew members from Seattle and JBLM will, thirty years from now, be serving in positions of leadership at Manzanar and Gettysburg and Yosemite. Others will be community leaders, supporting conservation and stewardship in neighborhoods from Anchorage to Miami.

Many of them will trace their roots back to Seattle, and to fifteen days spent on a Community Crew at Mount Rainier National Park directed by the Student Conservation Association. No other partner has done more to help us achieve this vision, and it is for this reason that we nominate the Community Crew program of the Student Conservation Association in Seattle for the Director’s Partnership Award.

Crew members take a photo break on
National Public Lands Day in 2008

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