YONKERS, N.Y. – A group of Yonkers teens traded in their city living for a taste of the southern wild this summer.
Seven Yonkers high school graduates have spent the past six weeks working deep in the wilderness of national forests in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The group camped out in the woods while they cleared more than 24 miles of trails, making them safe for hikers.
“It’s given me a new work ethic,” Roger Osorio said in a news release after returning late last month. “You work from the moment you wake up until it’s time to go to sleep.”
The summer program was part President Barack Obama’s nationwide initiative, “America’s Great Outdoors: Developing the Next Generation of Conservationists,” a project designed to encourage young people to enter the work force as natural resource professionals.
To prepare for the forest experience, the Yonkers group was trained and mentored in Groundwork Hudson Valley’s “Green Team” program. During the school year, they participated in neighborhood river clean-ups, helped build community gardens and volunteered on the Science Barge.
The group spent the first two weeks rebuilding a trail that was badly eroded in Linville Gorge, N.C. After that, the group moved on to a pair of national forests in North Carolina and Tennessee before ending its trip in Georgia.
Despite the work, group members say they still found some time to enjoy their surroundings.
“It was fun,” Riverside High School graduate Kwaku Kodua said in the release. “We got to swim in lakes and four waterfalls. We went whitewater rafting, which I had never done before. And it gave us a chance to explore this country.”
And it wasn’t a thankless job, Kodua said, as hikers in Georgia noticed their work and appreciated their efforts.
“That made me feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride,” he said. “I was glad to be a part of the crew that built that trail for people to enjoy.”
The summer program was the first phase of a two-year journey that will send the group to other wilderness locations and enable them to receive career training.
Bill Hodge, director of Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, the group that teamed up with Groundwork Hudson Valley for the program, said these types of experiences can have a big impact on the teens.
“Initiatives like America’s Great Outdoors can be powerfully formative in changing the participants’ thinking about their relationship to nature,” he said.