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SCA's Battery Kemble Crew Experiences Community, Conservation, and Connection at Rock Creek Park

SCA Battery Kemble all on bridge
2021 SCA Battery Kemble crew posing on top of the bridge they are working on renovating

NPS Photo

Over the summer, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and the National Park Service Youth Programs Division were excited to visit SCA’s Battery Kemble crew at Rock Creek Park on July 29, 2021 to check out the hard work they had been working on for the past seven weeks. This crew worked for ten weeks on the removal of a deteriorated bridge and building of a new 30-foot bridge to provide easier and safer access for trail users.

The name for the crew refers to the Battery Kemble Park, where the bridge was being repaired. It was part of the Civil War Defenses of Washington (also called Fort Circle) and was completed in 1861. Most of the Army and Navy guns were made here during the Civil War. The park got its name from the former superintendent of West Point Foundry, Gouverneur Kemble of Cold Spring, New York.

It was a small, but mighty team of five: Crew leader Leopold Sawyers and four crew members. Maxwell Newman also provided guidance as a former SCA member and current National Park Service maintenance worker. It was the first time any of them had built a bridge before. The original bridge was made from cables. Maxwell explained that “Once the bridge is demoed, they do the rock enforcement, focusing on repairing the abutment. A lot of it was surveying and figuring out our bridge height. The old bridge was not level; this is level. There is a slight arch in the bridge. That is the type of material we bought, and [it] is designed to actually span long distances without support in the middle, so it comes with a pre-loaded arch in it.”

For them, working on the crew was more than just building the bridge; it was the opportunity to be around like-minded people who were connected by the love of conservation, and the friendships that were made throughout the summer. We asked them to spell-out “SCA,” which was a great team-building exercise, and they went through several variations, especially on the letter “A.”
2021 SCA Battery Kemble crew spelling out “SCA” with their bodies
2021 SCA Battery Kemble crew spelling out “SCA” with their bodies

NPS Photo

Each day, they worked roughly from 7:00am until around 5:00pm with a break for lunch and other fun activities. They also had potlucks where they shared one another’s different foods and did show and tell. These breaks were team building opportunities to help the crew members connect with one another on an even more personal level that helped them when they were working. Though they were exposed to different cultures and perspectives on life, they were all here together because of their love for the great outdoors and wanting to give back to their community. Of course, there are moments when the unexpected happens, and this happened when one of the crew members accidently dropped his phone in a mixture of cement and was up for the challenge of retrieving it. Luckily it was still functioning, and he had a great story to tell. Rather than being upset by his phone getting caught, he was able to laugh at himself along with his team members, while also thinking about how he could avoid this in the future.
2021 SCA Battery Kemble crew working on the bridge
2021 SCA Battery Kemble crew working on the bridge

NPS Photo

For crew member Joshua Hopson, he shared that the team “help[s] me be more social...we all help each other out in our personal lives, and I can talk to them about anything.” It can be difficult to work day-in and day-out on a team that you have not built trust with. However, this SCA crew had plenty of time to get to know each other both during their working time and when they were relaxing after they were done for the day.

On the impact this crew has had on the crew members and the park, Maxwell reflected, “It’s a great opportunity to learn about the parks and not just about trail work but the natural resources that we have here in general. This crew in particular has been a blast.” He noted that when there is a building project and the outcome is tangible, this can spark energy and enthusiasm within the group.

Crew member Seori Stephens explained that she got her start in conservation in high school. While many of her friends had taken internships in offices, she wanted one that would allow her to work outside. She had gone to a magnet school where they had an environmental program that took the students on field trips every two weeks, whether they were hikes, or other outdoor activities. From a Google search, she found SCA and has loved being part of these crews ever since. “We visited a lot of companies in DC that were working for the environment. My family also really liked to hike, so I always really liked being outside, and I cared about the environment,” she recalled.

When it comes to representation in the conservation field, we know this has been a challenge and efforts have been made to make parks and green spaces more accessible to everyone. Leopold, the Crew Leader, did not initially realize conservation was a viable option for him. “I always knew I wanted to work outdoors, but I really didn’t see myself as someone who could go out and lead crews, travel, and learn all these different skills. It really broadened my understanding of what conservation work is.”
Completed bridge
Completed bridge

Photo Courtesy of Student Conservation Association

SCA is one of the NPS’ longest public-private partnerships. For the past 20 plus years, with generous support from donors, the SCA has provided students from the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland the opportunity to serve their broader community by completing conservation projects in national, state, and regional parks and participating in valuable curriculum based environmental education activities.To sum up this crew, Maxwell emphasized, “There’s a lot of leadership qualities in this crew, so I look forward to them continuing to foster more conservation ethics, and help other people navigate that path. SCA crews are incredibly important in the next generation of conservationists.”

Watch this video of some of the SCA Battery Kemble crew members, crew leader, and NPS staff member talk about the impact this crew had on them.

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Duration:
2 minutes, 40 seconds

Over the summer, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and the National Park Service Youth Programs Division were excited to visit SCA’s Battery Kemble crew at Rock Creek Park on July 29, 2021 to check out the hard work they had been working on for the past seven weeks. This crew worked for ten weeks on the removal of a deteriorated bridge and building of a new 30-foot bridge to provide easier and safer access for trail users. Crew members and crew leaders were interviewed for a feature spotlight.

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 scadc@thesca.org.

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 page to find the many opportunities for youth and young adults to get involved with our parks.