“Being around new people, working under the sun, and living in the dirt for a month may sound unappealing at a glance, but the sounds of a stream, secluded mountain tops on the horizon and adventures every day may change your mind.” Dillon, 19, Northwest Youth Corps Crew Member
Each summer Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) assembles crews of teens and young adults who want to spend the summer unplugged from their phones, living and working outdoors on projects ranging from backcountry trail maintenance to habitat restoration. For many, NYC’s programs offer a first step towards a career. Whether it be journalism, acting, or wildlife conservation, there was one thing in common between youth: they enjoy spending time in the outdoors and genuinely care about the health and future of the natural world.
“I was thankful to have a great experience in Scouting. I got to go out of the city and visit mountains. That made me want to spend the rest of my life outdoors fighting climate change.” Brian, 17, Northwest Youth Corps Member
Capitol Land Trust invited three crews from NYC’s Residential Camping Program to live and work at a place known as Inspiring Kids Preserve.
Inspiring Kids Preserve (IKP) sits on the forested shoreline of Henderson Inlet in South Puget Sound and is owned and managed by Capitol Land Trust for wildlife habitat and water quality protection. Since its conservation in 2018, 17 structures and debris have been removed and thousands of native trees and shrubs planted.
One goal of this 108-acre preserve makes it unique compared to other Capitol Land Trust preserves; in addition to the conservation of wildlife habitat, one day it will be open for public visitors to experience the restorative and healing qualities of the outdoors. Our vision is to work with other organizations and schools to provide free student field trips focused on interpreting the natural world and welcome our community to experience outdoor wonders and curiosities.
Although IKP is not yet open for public use, preparing for that future requires behind-the-scenes work. By partnering with NYC, we have been able to lay the groundwork for winter restoration plantings and for the upcoming school year when students will be visiting the preserve. Just as importantly, this partnership gave us the opportunity to share our land with young adults looking to learn, grow, and experience success, and to immerse them in the world of conservation.
We had the pleasure of starting off the summer with Northwest Youth Corps’ Yellow Crew. Crew leaders Andie and Andrew and crew members Brian, Thunder, Christian, Mike, and Nick eagerly began their two week stay at IKP. The crew set up deer protection fencing for future plantings, maintained recently planted areas will grow into established native Pacific Northwest forest, and removed debris from the landscape.
In the evening, the crew was visited by a variety of guest speakers, including Wolf Haven International, Black Hills Audubon Society, and Capitol Land Trust volunteer Katie. These professionals shared their career experiences and we even learned some cool stuff like that a jaguar can crack a turtle shell in one bite!
The Black Hills Audubon Society joined the crew on a walk around the preserve. Many birds were spotted on the birding walk including red-tailed hawks, a great blue heron, a red-breasted sapsucker, and a Townsend’s warbler.
Juggling between after school commitments, work, and screen time, it can be difficult to make the time to spend outdoors. Volunteer Katie asked the crew for advice on getting her own children outside. “What is it that your parents did for you that instilled a love of nature?”
Here are 5 pieces of advice from young adults about getting kids outside, but are also good reminders to all of us:
- Stop, look, and listen
- Put electronics down and watch the sunset or look at the stars
- Take a weekend camping trip
- Practice nature photography
- Join organizations that spend time outdoors
As the summer progressed, Yellow Crew said goodbye to IKP and Red Crew set up camp in their new home for the next two weeks. Crew leader Tom recalls their arrival to IKP, “Red Crew arrived at the Inspiring Kids Preserve with a spring in their step; they just spent two weeks working in the Entiat Valley and they were eager to experience Western Washington.”
“Spending the night at the preserve and waking up in the morning feels similar to spending a night out on the reservation by the river camping with my family.”
Alofa, 16, Northwest Youth Corps Crew Member
Crew leaders Kayleigh and Tom and crew members Anni, Alofa, Dillon, Stella, and Devin built the first trail at IKP that will be used by students, and one day, the general public. This trail connects the northern and southern parts of the landscape, which have experienced very different land use over the years. In addition, the crew happily worked on habitat enhancement projects by removing invasive plant species in areas that will be replanted with beneficial native plant species.
On an evening in the height of summer, Elise from GRuB took the crew on an ethnobotany walk around the preserve. Elise taught us that horsetail strengthens hair, bones, and nails and that horsetail tea can be made by cutting and drying fresh growth and adding to warm water. We also got to try the salty flavor of a salt marsh plant called pickleweed, also called sea beans.
Red Crew also got to practice water quality sampling on a small unnamed creek that flows from IKP’s forested hillside into Henderson Inlet thanks to Stephanie at the Thurston Conservation District’s South Sound GREEN program. The water checked out ok!
“Spending time at the Inspiring Kids Preserve helped the crew bond as a community. Their time here has shown that nature can bring together people from a diverse set of backgrounds. The outdoors belongs to everyone.”
Tom, 22, Northwest Youth Corps Crew Leader
“This experience has helped me find my confidence and taught me to be a leader. I find that the Northwest Youth Corps program gives space for people to figure out who they are, and that’s a very beautiful thing. I’ve learned how much I love nature and how important it is to protect it as well as spending time amongst the trees. It’s a life changing experience and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.”
Anni, 17, Northwest Youth Corps Member
As August came to an end, our last crew of the summer began their work at IKP. Orange Crew leaders Patrick and David and crew members Kat, Charles, Delleena, Blake, and Ada focused on habitat enhancement projects and debris removal.
“The most unexpected thing that happened was when we found a boat underneath a pile of blackberry bushes. I was expecting to only see the gnarly roots, but we found a boat instead!” Delleena, 16, Northwest Youth Corps Member
One gorgeous August evening, the crew and Capitol Land Trust volunteer Tom and Priscilla gathered to discuss conservation and our plans for IKP.
Our vision of connecting people to the land and each other became a reality over those five weeks in the heart of a Pacific Northwest summer. The three crews were given the time to engage deeply with the land and learning how much a small group of people can accomplish. Many thanks to the Yellow, Red, and Orange crews for your hard work to make Inspiring Kids Preserve an even better place to connect with the natural world.
Thank you to our partners and volunteers who presented to Northwest Youth Corps’ crews!
Black Hills Audubon Society
Center for Natural Lands Management
City of Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation
The Nature Conservancy
Taylor Shellfish Farms
Thurston Conservation District’s South Sound GREEN program
Thurston County Public Health
Tom and Priscilla Terry
Washington Trails Association
Wolf Haven International