At Dumbarton Oaks Park: A Youth Conservation Crew’s Trail to Success

SCA Rock Creek Park Group
Group photo of a summer Student Conservation Association crew at Rock Creek Park

NPS Photo

This summer, a Student Conservation Association trail crew was hard at work in Rock Creek Park, completing multiple restoration projects to enhance trails for visitor use. The crew was working in Dumbarton Oaks Park, a 27-acre section of Rock Creek Park, located in Washington D.C., near Georgetown. With such a large area of land, the crew had no shortage of projects to work on. In just six weeks, the trail crew was able to accomplish more than seven major projects that helped to restore existing trails and increase access for visitors. The crew’s summer consisted of more than just trail work, however. The crew attended multiple professional development events, enjoyed environmental education days, and even received a visit from the National Park Service Director Chuck Sams! The members left the summer with new skills, experiences, and memories with their fellow crew members they will never forget.
SCA Rock Creek Park Group with Director
Group photo from Dumbarton Oaks Park site visit with SCA Rock Creek Park Youth crew members, leaders, staff, NPS staff, and NPS Director Sams

NPS Photo

The crew was made up of 12 members including 10 students from local high schools in the surrounding area and two crew leaders. With a crew of this size, the members made quick work of their projects. Their main objectives included maintaining dams, building a set of check steps, restoring a staircase, clearing debris, and building multiple erosion prevention structures. So, let’s highlight a few!

Before and After Bog Bridge
Log stumps that hindered trail accessibility; Crew standing on the finished bog bridge

Courtesy of Student Conservation Association

When asked about their favorite project, many of the crew members said building the bog bridge was a standout. Previously, the area was a set of log stumps placed in a muddy section of trail that received lots of water drainage. The logs served as a makeshift bridge to get to the other side of the trail. As the students described during a site visit, the logs hindered accessibility. Jumping from one log to the other was not favorable, especially for the older residents who frequently use the trail. Creating the bog bridge allowed water runoff to pass through the area easily and also provided a solid platform for visitors to walk on. The project greatly increased access to the trail, so now more visitors can cross the area!
Finished Cliff Trail
Finished Clifton Hill Walk Trail staircase

Courtesy of Student Conservation Association

Another project the crew undertook was restoring a staircase on Clifton Hill Walk Trail. The crew tackled the area next to the staircase that had previously faced erosion from stormwater runoff. Due to the erosion, users of the staircase avoided the steps completely and had created another trail that was considerably more uneven. The crew used a variety of tools to strategically place each step. However, when it came time to level each step, the members had to problem solve. Without a level on hand to make sure each step was parallel to the ground, the crew thought of a creative solution. The answer… a water bottle! The crew used a water bottle as a leveling tool for multiple projects. After the steps were even, the final step was to close off the edge of the trail so visitors would use the staircase.
SCA members standing on progress of dam at Dumbarton Oaks Park 2
SCA members standing on progress of dam at Dumbarton Oaks Park

Courtesy of Student Conservation Association

In addition to the trail work, the crew also enjoyed environmental educational (EE) days each Friday during their six weeks in the park. These days were an opportunity to practice team building, gain professional development insight, and have fun! The crew got to visit Great Falls Park and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History during some EE days. They also attended an NPS career panel and received a visit from Rock Creek Park’s Superintendent, Julia Washburn. Through these events, members were able to learn about different jobs in the conservation field, which sparked their interest for future career paths.
For some students, this summer was their first time doing trail work; for others it was their first time experiencing the outdoors. 15-year-old Jeremiah Cuadro stated that he “originally avoided the outdoors and preferred to stay indoors prior to the program.” However, by the end of his trail crew experience, Jeremiah’s opinion had changed. He felt he had made an impact on his community and made lifelong friends along the way.
Group of SCA members at Great Falls
Group of SCA members at Great Falls Park

Courtesy of Student Conservation Association

When asked what she learned throughout her experience, crew member Anniee Fang said she learned perseverance. “Seeing everyone working so hard, continued to motivate me when things got hard,” said Anniee. This sentiment rang true for many of the members. Working through challenges, especially in 90 degree heat every day, formed a level of comradery that was evident among the crew. To see their comradery in action, check out the recorded Instagram Live to see what a typical day in the field looks like!

The crew was brought on in partnership with SCA which is one of the National Park Service’s long standing youth partners. This year, SCA is celebrating its 65th anniversary, as well as placing its 100,000th member into the field. For the past 20 years, SCA has provided opportunities at Rock Creek Park and other parks across the U.S for youth to engage in hands-on service to the land. The SCA’s mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders and with the help of NPS and other partners, inspire lifelong environmental stewardship.
Director Sams at Rock Creek Park
A view of Director Sams speaking to the SCA members

NPS Photo

To celebrate the longtime partnership between NPS and SCA, as well as the amazing work the crew accomplished, the Director of the National Park Service, Chuck Sams, visited the crew at their work site.

The visit was a great opportunity for the students to hear about Director Sams’ journey to becoming the first Native American to lead the NPS in its 106-year history. The early stages of his career were remarkably similar to what the students were doing, including getting his hands dirty doing field work. The crew members showed Director Sams a few of the projects they were working on and explained some of the challenges they faced during the summer.

Director Sams shared, “I also worked on service corps and then led my own, so it was inspiring for me to see these youth in action, as they are the future leaders of our public lands. It was an honor and a joy for me to visit this crew. They have bright futures ahead of them.”

By the end of the summer, the SCA trail crew built and maintained nine structures, improved 80 feet of water way, and worked on 2,013 feet of trail, which is twice the height of the Empire State Building!

Throughout their six weeks in the park, the crew experienced challenges, successes, and grew a deeper connection to the green spaces in their local communities. Trail crews like the one in Dumbarton Oaks provide an opportunity for youth to cultivate their stewardship interests and get hands-on work experience. As the next generation of leaders, inviting youth to engage with parks is valuable for the futures of our young adults and of our nation's public lands. Rock Creek Park celebrates the success of the 2022 SCA trail crew and looks forward to hosting more in the future.

To learn more about Youth Programs at a park near you check out the National Park Service Youth Programs page!

Check out more photos on the SCA’s Flickr Album

SCA and Director Sams
NPS Director Sams with Student Conservation Association members

NPS Photo

Additional information about Rock Creek Park: Rock Creek Park is truly a gem in our nation's capital. This 1,754 acre city park was officially authorized in 1890, making it the third national park to be designated by the federal government. It offers visitors the opportunity to escape the bustle of the city and find a peaceful refuge, recreation, fresh air, majestic trees, wild animals, and thousands of years of human history.

Additional information about the SCA DC Community Program: This program provides year-round conservation opportunities divided into two seasons: school-year programs (running January through May) and summer programs (this year running June through August). The Washington DC Community Program offers both volunteer and paid service opportunities. Volunteer programs typically occur on weekends year-round, while paid service programs run Monday-Friday in the summertime, fall, and spring. Members serve at sites in and around the Metropolitan DC Area. Participants build trails and restore habitat while exploring green career opportunities, building leadership skills, and learning about the local environment through field trips, outdoor recreation, and camping trips, and complete community service projects. For any questions about the SCA DC Community Program, please email

If you have any questions about NPS Youth and Young Adult Programs, please e-mail us and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @npsyouth and use #npsyouth to share your experience with us! Visit our Youth and Young Adult Programs page to find the many opportunities for youth and young adults to get involved with our parks.

Watch this video of some of the SCA Rock Creek Park crew members and crew leader talk about the impact this crew had on them.

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This summer, a Student Conservation Association trail crew was hard at work in Rock Creek Park, completing multiple restoration projects to enhance trails for visitor use. The crew was working in Dumbarton Oaks Park, a 27-acre section of Rock Creek Park, located in Washington D.C., near Georgetown.

Rock Creek Park

Last updated: November 14, 2022