|Sean Durgee: 8-Year Youth Corps Veteran
When Sean Durgee joined the Boulder County Youth Corps in 2005 at the age of 14, he had little idea he’d be spending the next eight summers with the corps. At first, he was just looking for a first job and a way to get out of his parents’ hair for the summer, but Sean got more than he bargained for - he got an experience that was multi-faceted and richly rewarding.
“I liked working and being outdoors all the time, and knew I’d be able to pick up some landscaping skills, so I figured I’d give it a shot,” he says, now 22 years old. For the first four years, Sean worked as a corpsmember with the corps’ Lafayette team. “I can still remember the first year, working in 90 degree heat or the other extreme, raining and 40 degrees. One whole summer we had entire days of pouring rain while we pulled weeds.” Those early experiences of weather extremes didn’t deter him though. He went on to become an assistant team leader for three years, and is now a team leader.
As a corpsmember, Sean was exposed to different types of work on the Lafayette and housing teams. As an assistant he was moved to the facilities team, where he worked on large landscaping projects for Boulder County. In 2011, his team re-landscaped the interior courtyard at the Justice Center in Boulder. He says he had a special fondness for the irrigation work, seeing no end to the learning opportunities. “It’s really cool seeing what you’ve done and accomplished during the day.”
As Sean has moved up in the corps, the nature of his work has evolved, too. He spends less time doing physical labor and more time focused on management and teaching. Now, the satisfaction stems from his relationships with the corpsmembers. “Being able to see the kids doing their jobs, and seeing how they grow throughout the summer, is awesome. Some kids I’ve had for three years. Seeing them change over that time, and how they pick up leadership skills, is unbelievable.”
Sean’s own leadership development and foray into management comes in good time. In May 2013, he graduated from CU-Boulder with a degree in architecture. He is in the process of finishing his portfolio and sending it to architecture firms; he hopes his prospective employers will pick up on the leadership qualities he obtained from Boulder County Youth Corps. By this fall, Sean hopes to have landed a full-time job with a large firm where he can apply his skills and education – as well as the work ethic and sense of responsibility he developed through youth corps.
Wherever Sean lands, he will continue to do things in the outdoors that drew him to the corps in the first place: hiking, climbing, biking, skiing, and enjoying the trails and open space that define the landscape of his native Lafayette.
“Sean is a BCYC success story,” says Judy Wolfe of the Boulder County Youth Corps. “I’m really proud of him and what will be his eighth summer in BCYC. I was glad to be there to witness his first day.”
PHOTO 1: Sean in 2011 working on the BCYC facilities team that worked at the Justice Center.
PHOTO 2: Sean weeding in Lafayette as a corpsmember in 2006.
Colorado River Restoration Helps Preserve a State Treasure
In late May, Western Colorado Conservation Corps (WCCC) members completed a week-long restoration project along the Colorado River in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, near Grand Junction. The crew of eight young people ages 18 to 24 spent the week working 10-hour days on remote, steep terrain, where they used chainsaws to remove non-native plants from the area in order to make conditions more suitable for native trees and wildlife and to improve access to the river’s edge. Access is so difficult that the crew had to float the river to reach the project areas.
The Colorado River is one of the most important rivers in the western U.S. The 25-mile stretch that runs through McInnis Canyons is popular for recreational boating and camping. According to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Park Ranger Troy Schnurr, the BLM has worked since 2001 to improve habitat and better manage this section of the Colorado River for scores of people who come every summer to paddle, fish and camp.
With help from youth corps crews, tamarisk has been removed from 65 acres along the river. These invasive species threaten the river’s water supply and are harmful to wildlife. Removing them is a long-term endeavor. Multiple crews working over several seasons will be needed to make progress in the coming years. The work is important because these deep-rooted plants obtain water from permanent ground supplies and threaten the river’s water supply. Additionally, when tamarisk and Russian olive are removed, room opens up for rafters to pitch campsites along the river.
WCCC crews previously protected 270 Freemont cottonwood trees, and have planted more than 120 new cottonwoods. Native plants such as willows and cottonwoods are valuable for their strong root systems, which help stabilize riverbanks and prevent erosion.
WCCC corpsmembers found additional delights in this recent work: “Our first night here, we had two bighorn sheep run right through the canyon. We could see them walking along that high ridge for quite a while,” said crewleader Sam Parks. “It’s always great to see the wildlife out here.”
The project in McInnis Canyons was supported by the Conservation Lands Foundation and by a private donation of $10,000 from Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) as part of the bank’s “Blue Water Project” for awareness, education and on-the-ground programs that protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water.
“We truly appreciate the collaboration between the Conservation Lands Foundation, Royal Bank of Canada and the Colorado Youth Corps Association as their efforts expand our capabilities while creating employment opportunities for youth,” said Helen Hankins, BLM Colorado’s state director. “From trail construction to invasive species removal, youth corps crews play a vital role in public lands management in Colorado.”
The funding supports the first project by a new Veterans-Youth Conservation Corps Partnership initiated by the Conservation Lands Foundation last fall aimed at enhancing water quality, wildlife habitat and creating jobs on National Conservation Lands. The partnership is a unique collaboration of private funders, youth conservation corps, veterans and community volunteers.
The National Conservation Lands are 28-million acres of protected public lands and waterways, including McInnis Canyons, Gunnison Gorge and Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. These areas are managed by the BLM and have joined the ranks of our national parks and wildlife refuges as special places that preserve our natural, historical and scientific treasures.
“We are extremely grateful to RBC for helping us put ‘boots on the ground’ in Colorado,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. “McInnis Canyons and the Colorado River are cornerstones of the National Conservation Lands and important to so many people. RBC’s gift has given this partnership and river an important boost.”
PHOTO 1: Charlotte Overby, Conservation Lands Foundation river coordinator, and Trevor Wickersham, Western Colorado Conservation Corps executive director, took a float trip on the Colorado River to visit the WCCC crew.
PHOTO 2: WCCC crew above the Colorado River
PHOTO 3: WCCC crew member sharpening his saw
PHOTO CREDITS: Barbara Balaguer
Sharpen Your Chainsaws!
On Friday, May 17, 2013, Governor John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 269 which authorizes and funds a $9.8 million Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant program. Youth conservation corps accredited by CYCA are encouraged partners in the bill. We are looking forward to helping local communities mitigate fire risk in the wildland urban interface and giving critical job training to corpsmembers. Special thanks to SB 269 sponsors State Senator Jeanne Nicholson, State Senator Ellen Roberts, State Representative Don Coram and State Representative Mike McLachlan, as well as Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King and his staff, for their support and inclusion of youth corps in this important bill.
The governor signed the bill at the grand opening of Colorado’s newest state park, Staunton State Park (read the Denver Post article). Mile High Youth Corps has worked for many years on fire fuels mitigation on this spectacular property in anticipation of its opening, and we are thrilled to see it now open to the public!
PHOTO 1: Senator Tochtrop, Senator Schwartz, Senator Nicholson, and Department of Natural Resources director Mike King look on as Governor Hickenlooper signs SB 269 into law.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ken Papaleo
PHOTO 2: A Mile High Youth Corps member works on a fire fuel mitigation project.
Inaugural Fair on Careers in Natural Resources: Inspiring the Next Generation
On Wednesday, May 15, more than 75 students, eight teachers and nine natural resources organizations gathered at the West Generation Academy in Denver for the Exploring Natural Resources Careers Fair. The goal was to inspire youth to pursue natural resources careers and educate “career influencers,” such as educators, school counselors and nonprofit staff about these exciting career paths. Tony Dixon, national director of the U.S. Forest Service Job Corps, kicked off the event by giving an inspiring speech about his early exposure to the outdoors and his rise in the field.
Unlike typical job fairs, students had the opportunity to circulate in groups and spend 20 minutes at each of four stations designed to engage students in interactive activities. Students had the opportunity to take distance measurements, look at survey equipment, and learn about fossils and examples of types of dinosaurs found on public lands. At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service station, students participated in an interactive card game related to career qualifications. Stations were hosted by the Colorado State Forest Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service – Job Corps, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, Southwest Conservation Corps, Ecotech Institute, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Colorado State University.
The students were impressed with the setup. When asked what he learned, one student exclaimed, “I learned that I can get paid for having fun!” A sentiment that natural resource professionals would agree with!
Katie Navin, executive director of the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, which was instrumental in the implementation and creation of this fair, said, "Nationally, we know we need to engage more students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), but rarely do we think about natural resources professionals in that category. This is such a unique opportunity for students to get an interactive look at a day in the life of natural resource and STEM-based careers, and help students build a pathway to pursue those opportunities."
The fair was hosted as part of the Careers in Natural Resources Initiative led by CYCA and the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education. For more information about this initiative and ways your organization can participate, plan to attend the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Resource Partnership session titled “Careers in Natural Resources Initiative: Inspiring the Next Generation,” coming up on June 21, 2013 (9:30 a.m., REI Flagship store, Denver, large conference room). Or contact Scott at email@example.com.
PHOTO 1: Vince Meyer, diversity recruiter for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, engages participants at the Exploring Natural Resources Careers Fair
PHOTO 2: Career fair participants lead their peers in a discussion about water
Colorado Land Conservation Appreciation Week is Here!
Coloradans take pride in the public and private lands that define our western heritage. In recognition of the fact that land is fundamental to almost everything that makes Colorado a great place to live and visit, youth conservation corps around the state will be celebrating Colorado Land Conservation Appreciation Week, June 3-9 2013, to raise awareness of the vital importance of land conservation to our physical and mental health, and to the state’s economic well-being.
Information and a calendar of youth corps projects and other local events during Colorado Land Conservation Appreciation Week are available online. View the calendar here! You can also follow the Colorado Land Conservation Appreciation Week on Facebook.
Save the Date
June 8, 2013: National Get Outdoors Day City Park, Denver 9 am - 4 pm
June 21, 2013: “Careers in Natural Resources Initiative: Inspiring the Next Generation,” 9:30 a.m., REI Flagship building, Denver, large conference room). For details contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.