Eighteen-year-old Chad Beatty wanted something more than flipping burgers for the summer and fortunately he found that opportunity on the Talladega National Forest in Alabama.
Considering youth unemployment in the country, the Munford (Ala.) High School student would have been lucky to get a fast-food job in his rural town of less than 1,300 people.
But thanks to a coalition of Forest Service partners, he and dozens of high school and college-age students are embarking on trails that will literally guide them to diverse green careers they might not have considered otherwise.
This year, the Forest Service Youth Conservation Corps employment program here is supported by an unusual coalition of partners. It includes individuals, Munford Schools, Student Conservation Association and Greening Youth Foundation.
Deep in the Talladega National Forest, beneath the towering mountain longleaf pines, veteran Pinhoti Trail volunteer John Calhoun and Student Conservation Association intern Amanda Pearson are leading a Youth Conservation Corps crew along a steep section of the trail. Their day will be filled with clearing the trail and eliminating hiker-created offshoots in order to keep the path of the original Pinhoti trail intact.
After several days on the trail, high schooler J. R. Sutton confesses, “At first it was the money and the work experience…having a job for the summer. But after a while, you get to like it. And I learned a lot!”
The Youth Conservation Corps recruits on the Talladega Ranger District in Alabama and on the Chattahoochee National Forest’s Blue Ridge Ranger District in Georgia and are beneficiaries of an agreement between the Forest Service and Greening Youth Foundation. The objective is to connect youth with meaningful summer employment in the hope of building a conservation ethic – even guiding them to careers with the agency.
“We are always excited when they seek to come back into the program and especially when they are employed by federal agencies,” said Mike Flynn, vice president of operations for Greening Youth Foundation.
Chad Whisenant, a senior criminal justice major at South Carolina State University needs no enticement. In his second year with the program, he knows he wants to work in law enforcement on public lands.
Eleventh grader Noah Tretter planned to be a camp counselor until he saw the Greening Youth Foundation flyer in class. He is amazed at how much he has learned about wildlife, archeology, fire, plants and trees and how the Forest Service works. Now he plans to adjust his college courses “toward forestry or wildlife with the Forest Service,” he said.
Chad Beatty is also hoping to come back to work for the Forest Service after college.
“It’s always a new adventure…like a new job every single day,” Beatty said.