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Contact: Marjorie Thomas, 678-538-1243
Sandy Springs, GA: Armor for trails? Swampers for sawyers? Clearing blowdown? These topics would stump most high school students, but for six teenage residents at Homestretch, a transitional living facility in Fulton County, trail maintenance jobs like these were just part of their daily summer routine.
In a unique partnership between Homestretch, the National Park Service, Fulton County School District, and the Greening Youth Foundation, the six interns learned job skills, earned money, and made personal connections with the natural environment. The project was funded by an America’s Best Idea grant from the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks. Inspired by the critically acclaimed Ken Burns’ documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, the America’s Best Idea program funds park activities designed to connect diverse populations throughout the United States with their national parks in innovative and meaningful ways. The grant paid for the entire internship program, including wages for all six participants, rented work vehicle, and tools and supplies.
Through this program, the students made connections with the national parks, learned life skills, gained stewardship ethics, and accomplished proud personal achievements. Reflecting on the program, one intern wrote, “Since I’ve been here I learned how to work harder and finish what I started. I really wasn’t a nature guy, but after this program, I am the BEST nature guy alive!”
The six interns spent four weeks working on trails at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. They repaired and built trails, cleared away storm-damaged trees, eradicated non-native plants, and took out old fences. In the process, they learned to identify plants and give first aid and CPR.
The typical workweek consisted of four work days and one educational day. On education days, the interns visited two neighboring NPS sites on field trips: Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Several students expressed interest in continuing their involvement with national parks by creating a national parks club at their high school. This internship also has the potential to serve as a stepping stone for employment through our Youth Conservation Corps program next summer.
For a full listing of parks that received funding for similar innovative programs through the America’s Best Idea grant, please visit the National Park Foundation website.