School is beginning again, which means teens everywhere are being bombarded with one question: “What did you do this summer?” The 24 inaugural members of the Portland Youth Corps might just have the coolest answer.
The new Portland Youth Corps (PYC) program, which just wrapped up for the year, aims to bring environmental education and hands-on conservation experience to teens, especially those who are low income, BIPOC, or New Mainers. Two cohorts of 12 teens between the ages of 14 and 17 spent four weeks this summer learning about ecology, maintaining parks and trails, controlling invasive species, and having outdoor adventures.
The program is managed by Portland Parks, Recreation, and Facilities and the Portland Parks Conservancy (PPC), in partnership with Maine Audubon. (The PPC is a nonprofit organization that raises funds to enhance Portland Parks and Recreation programs and green spaces.) This summer, Portland Trails facilitated 15 trail workdays for the Youth Corps crew, who helped upgrade, improve, and connect trails throughout the Portland Trails system.
The second PYC cohort ready for a day of trail work.
First up: the trails behind Evergreen Cemetery. “That was our primary location,” says Jaime Parker, the Trails Manager for Portland Trails. There was lots of work to be done, so they started with the trails closest to the cemetery and worked their way out. “They prepped the trails for new surfacing material by removing rocks and roots, and doing some grading,” he says. Jaime also trained them how to use Portland Trails’ new Canycom track machine (a recent gift from a generous donor) as well as mechanized wheelbarrows to move heavy materials deep into the woods. The teens also built a few bridges, “always exciting for volunteers,” says Jaime. “These kids had no idea that they were capable of building a bridge, but then, three hours later, we had a bridge.”
Meghan Loury, an AmeriCorps Environmental Steward with the Maine Conservation Corps who is the PYC crew leader, agrees that bridge building was a highlight for many of the teens and that “they enjoyed seeing the progress we made!” she says. They also enjoyed the challenge of root removal – the bigger, the better. “We kept a ‘trophy case’ of big ones we pulled,” says Meghan.
One teen shows off a particularly large root.
Next up: Baxter Pines in the Deering Center neighborhood. “That day, we worked with an ELL summer camp that Maine Audubon was engaged with,” says Jaime. Those campers worked alongside the PYC crew to improve the trail, plant native plants provided by the City of Portland, and build a bridge. “It was a multiple-agency effort that was collaborative and fun.”
Last but not least: Ocean Ave. Rec Area and Graves Hill. “We removed rocks on a trail owned by the City and then connected it to a trail that has a Portland Trails easement, thanks to a private landowner,” Jaime says. It’s a perfect demonstration of how the City of Portland, Portland Trails, and private landowners all work together to create a well-connected trail network, something Jaime was glad to share with the PYC. “I think the kids got it that they were part of a bigger thing,” he says.
Graves Hill Trail before...
A few PYC crew members smiling on the job.
Now that both cohorts of the PYC crew have completed their service, Meghan can reflect on the teens’ experience with the program. “Some of my favorite moments are when they persevere through hard moments, like when a rock in the trail is bigger than they thought, and they keep trying different tools and methods until they get it out,” she says. “The moment they pull the rock out is always super exciting, and they have huge smiles on their faces and sweat on their brows!”
Jaime, who was impressed by the teens’ industriousness and the pride they took in their work, is looking forward to Portland Trails assisting the PYC program in future years. “It always gives you hope for the younger generation when you see kids who are really engaged in their community,” he says.
Thanks to Portland Parks and Recreation, Portland Parks Conservancy, and the Maine Audubon for inviting Portland Trails to be part of this inaugural program!
All photos courtesy of Meghan Loury.