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Students Develop Green Skills, New Pogonip Trail

blog earthstewardsHigh school volunteers participate in a yearlong program dedicated to environmental job training

Many—particularly teenagers—find it difficult to wake up early on the weekends, but for 150 local high school students, recent Saturdays have been spent dedicating a total of 700 hours of manual labor to learn environmental stewardship.

These youth are volunteers through the Earth Stewards Program, which began in October 2012 and is a partnership between the City of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

The volunteers, who include students from Kirby and Ponderosa high schools, improve parks through trail development while receiving green job training. For the first project in the Earth Stewards Program, they are assisting with construction of the multi-use Emma McCrary Trail in Pogonip.

The idea for the 1.5-mile trail was born about four years ago, and construction began last spring, once the community support, donations and permits had been acquired, according to Heather Reiter, the chief ranger for the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department.

The trail will connect Gold Club Drive with the Rincon fire road and the U-Con Trail, and beginning users should be able to navigate the trail easily.

The Earth Stewards Program has been working with Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBoSC) to work on the trail every Saturday since the Santa Cruz City Council approved the recommendation for the project in March 2012, and, so far, the volunteers have cleared 500 feet of the trail.

"Students have been building rock walls, clearing roots and stumps, and clearing the way for the bridges on the trail," says Reiter. The volunteers have also learned to recognize which plants are native and non-native species, which is critical to the healthy maintenance of plants in Pogonip.

According to MBoSC, the project has accumulated more than $30,000 in donations.

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History developed the idea for Earth Stewards about a year ago, after realizing that it was important to reach out to teens and connect them with nature.

"We recognized a need to help connect high school students with stewardship, and to help them develop green skills, like trail building," says Reiter. "We wanted to show them why it is important to preserve the plant and animal community in Pogonip."

Students were initially chosen based on their interests in nature, the environment, and sustainability, but the program has received several volunteer applications. Since the program’s implementation, many students have stepped up to apply for higher positions within the Earth Stewards Program, such as task management and peer leadership.

"It was a really great way to get them out to contribute to the community and to help build something sustainable," says Reiter. "We are trying to build on the educational aspect of green skills with hands-on work through this program."

The next workday session is this Saturday, April 6.

For more information, visit mbosc.org/local-parks/pogonip. Photo courtesy of MBoSC. 

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