Teens experience forest work

For the last six weeks, Washington County teens have gotten a taste of the great outdoors and what it means to work for the Wayne National Forest.

Through a partnership with the Washington-Morgan Community Action, nine teens have been placed with the forest, in the Youth Conservation Corps, and have been working to build and maintain projects within the forest. During Tuesday’s activities, the teens built fire pits at the Hune Bridge campground on Ohio 26.

Grant Valentine, 18, of New Matamoras, said he’s enjoying his experience.

“We’ve done construction work,” he said. “We worked to build bridges, we mow a lot…(We do) a little bit of everything. I really liked building the bridge at Lamping Homestead (in Monroe County)…It’s been a neat experience working for the forest; I always liked outdoor stuff.”

David Brightbill, director of community action, said the partnership is a natural thing.

“It gives our young people the opportunity to learn and also be productive in what they do,” he said. “The opportunity is good for the kids to not only learn skills, but they can see what they’ve accomplished at the end…and have something tangible.”

Brightbill said funding that allows the teens to work with the forest comes from a workforce investment act.

Gala Goldsmith, Athens District Ranger for the forest, said the work the teens are doing connects them to the outdoors.

“If we can plant the seed of education and get people to enjoy the outdoors more, that’s half the battle,” said Goldsmith. “We’re collaborating with partners and connecting with our community…We connect the younger generation to ensure they understand importance of conservation of the environment.”

Pam Meyer, recreation technician for the forest’s Marietta Unit, said she’s having a blast working the trails in the summer.

“I just like working with the kids,” she said. “They make the job so much more (lively). They bring a new set of eyes everyday…they always see a part of my job that I never did.”

Meyer said one hard part of having the youth involved is that it’s usually their first job.

“It’s getting them into the mode of a real job, but that’s OK,” she said. “Through the summer I basically end up adopting nine or 10 teenagers.”

Goldsmith said that there are two Puerto Rican students working with the YCC team through an internship, Isabel Sanchez Vazquez, 18, and Edwin Burgos, 18.

“One of the things (good about the forest) is diversity and inclusion,” said Goldsmith. “This is a national forest and everybody should be included.”

She said Vazquez and Burgos were found through the National Hispanic Environmental Council and are being sponsored with help of the National Northeastern Research Station.

Vazquez said Ohio is much different from her home in Puerto Rico.

“I’ve seen a lot of different trees we don’t have,” she said. “And also creatures and animals in the forest. I wanted to experience something new and do stuff I didn’t do; it’s the experience and the knowledge I’m going to get out of it (that I’m enjoying).”

Peyton Angelo, 15, of Vincent, is the youngest worker on the YCC team. He said his favorite part was helping replace the bridge at the Lamping Homestead.

“At first, yeah, (it took some time), but then it started to be a little faster,” he said.

Though he’s been participating, he’s limited with what he can actually do.

“I’m too young to work our machines, but they keep me busy,” Angelo said.

Washington County Commissioner David White helped the teens, moving blocks and digging in the mud with them. He said the experiences are something they will take with them.

“They can feel they are providing something for posterity, if not for permanence, definitely something for the next generation,” said White. “They will probably come back here with their children and grandchildren and enjoy the experience.”