2016 Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP) Allows High School Students Opportunity to Explore Conservation in WNC
This summer we welcomed 20 young adults into our third year of the Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP), our largest group to date. Over the course of eight weeks this summer, YELP interns work with three returning leaders from previous YELP 2015 and several local partners to learn how to track and monitor water quality, techniques for invasive plant removal, native tree planting, riparian zone restoration (the areas alongside riverbanks), habitat measurements and so much more. GreenWorks provides young people aged 15-19 years old with a paid internship experience that connects youth with their local environment.
This summer, YELP interns also complete a 15-hour "externship" with environmental professionals from local partner organizations and businesses, learning alongside our local conservation leaders while building employability skills and exploring potential career opportunities in environmental sustainability.
“In the past I’ve spent moments with young people showing them the outdoors and the woods for a short time and later found out that their time with me inspired them to go into a different field entirely,” says Bob Gale, Ecologist and Public Lands Director at Mountain True. “I had no idea that in such a short amount of time I could have that influence.”
Mountain True was one of four regional partners to work alongside YELP interns as part of their training, teaching them non-native plant identification and forestry techniques. The 17 interns and three returning students as program leaders, spent days in the field hands-on with:
After completing their training, interns presented their research and insights to each other. Several interns, for example, shared how they learned to identify, plot using GPS and inventory ash trees with Field Biologist Josh Kelly of Mountain True in the Pisgah National Forest.
“We focused on ash trees because there’s a non-native insect called the Emerald Ash Borer that is fatal to them and is affecting our area,” said Kelly. “We can save some ash trees but we need to know where they are and how many there are before we can start to think about saving them. For me it was a good first step toward developing a program for inventorying ash trees.”
Along with specific training in the areas listed above, interns also monitor six urban streams with us, conducting chemical and biological water quality sampling and clearing Trash Booms. To help spread the word about local water quality issues, YELP interns take part in several local river cleanups, one where they are asked to bring a friend from their neighborhood and show them some of what they had learned.
In partnership with the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, YELP interns learn about water quality and climate change at Purchase Knob, participating in water quality monitoring of the headwaters of the French Broad River, searching for hellbender salamanders and studying microscopic tardigrades living at the base of lichens growing on trees in the park. Later this summer, interns will participate in a camping trip with GreenWorks staff and take a hike with GSMNP Superintendent Cash as part of the Smokies Centennial Challenge - Hike 100 to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of our National Park system.
We can’t thank our local and regional environmental partners enough for their support as this needed program continues to grow here in Western North Carolina. “This really builds them up, empowers them and allows them to make important decisions about their communities that they never have before,” says Greenworks Community Engagement Coordinator Dewana Little. “They’re building so many skills, lifelong skills. This program is making a difference in them personally.”