Last updated: September 5, 2017
A Summer of Service: Youth Conservation Corps at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
September 05, 2017
Everybody has a first job. For me it was washing dishes in a restaurant by the beach. You have to begin somewhere, and every summer hundreds of high school students get their start as a crew member with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) at National Park Service sites across the United States.
While the size and workload of crews may differ, all YCC programs seek to instill an appreciation and understanding of community and conservation as it relates to their site. Nowhere is the diverse workload more apparent than here in the Bay Area. If you are on the crew at John Muir National Historic Site, you may help preserve century old historic resources one day, and the next, find yourself knee deep in poison oak removing invasive species from the Park. In Point Reyes you’ll likely be on the 150 miles of trails within the National Seashore, fighting the constant threat of the forest to overgrow and erase the paths. If you asked our crew here at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (SAFR) to describe their work, you would get a quick and unanimous reply; “Ships.”
(From Left to Right: Chadsity, Jim (Crew Supervisor), Brian (seated, foreground), Aaron (seated, background), Michelle
This past summer at SAFR, we had four YCC summer interns: Aaron, Brian, Chadsity, and Michelle. For eight weeks, these teenage crew members ventured from their homes across San Francisco to Hyde Street Pier to participate in this internship. Whether by bus or car, they arrived to the park by 7 a.m., bleary eyed, but ready to begin their day with ship wash-downs.
What is a ship wash-down? If you saw them in action and fancy yourself as an old-timey sailor, you’d call this “swabbing the deck.” With a scrub brush and hose in hand, the crew removed bird droppings and other foreign substances that accumulated on the deck overnight. This was one of their most essential duties, both for the preservation of our historic resources, and because it beautifies our ships, making them shipshape for the public to view every day. After wash-downs were completed, the crew would get a much welcomed coffee break before reconvening in the Shipwright’s Shop to get their daily assignments. These projects included tasks such as sanding, chipping, scraping, painting C.A. Thayer, or helping pack away exhibits aboard Balclutha before she was towed away to dry dock. According to Brian (who was a second year YCC member), the most satisfying project was scraping excess off the top of long strips of pitch on the ship decks. “It’s like the feeling of peeling an orange all in one piece. You know you can get all the pitch off, but getting it all in one strip is an accomplishment,” he explained. Other activities included vacuuming and dusting the Visitor Center exhibits and washing the antique cars aboard Eureka. Thanks to their help, park staff were able to complete several pending projects.
(Aaron hard at work on one of our antique cars aboard Eureka)
Now, all work and no play makes for a tiresome summer internship. Over the years the YCC program has been refined to go beyond the daily manual labor. The internship is now designed to include “extracurricular” activities that help further the understanding and appreciation of their park. Environmental awareness education is a pillar of the YCC program, and it happened to be one of my main interactions with the crew. My background includes a degree in Environmental Studies and experience teaching at an outdoor school, so it was my pleasure to pull the crew away from the ships to explore a bit of the natural science aspects of our Park. We explored oceanography and discussed tides, water chemistry, and ocean currents, as well more hands-on marine biology lessons. One of our biggest efforts was to make a species population count on the iNaturalist app as we explored the rocky intertidal habitat along Aquatic Park Cove. We also pulled out microscopes to get a closer look at the plankton. In addition to these educational days, I planned a few field trips for them to visit Alcatraz Island, the Presidio, as well as a YCC Summit. While each adventure was special, I was lucky to chaperone our crew for the Summit.
The YCC Summit brought all the Bay Area YCC crews together to collaborate and receive some additional professional development as part of their internship. The event came together with great success on July 19th at Point Reyes National Seashore (PORE).
(The combined YCC Crews)
During the Summit, I led introductory group activities for the crews to help break the ice. From there, we proceeded to a group service project on PORE’s iconic earthquake trail. As part of the continuing NPS effort to make Parks’ accessible to all, the combined crews repaired and expanded the earthquake trail to bring it up to ADA standards. Beyond the service project, the Summit included educational professional development workshops and Ranger led tours in the afternoon. I asked Michelle what her favorite part of the day was, and she replied, “Probably the ranger tour. Hearing and seeing how earthquakes changed the Park was really cool.” After the closing ceremony, we all headed to the social overnight aspect of the program. There was a delicious taco dinner, balls and discs being thrown, a guitar was broken out around the camp fire, and Brian helped Chadsity as she set up a tent for the first time!
(Crew Members learning about the Geology of PORE. Note Michelle in the signature YCC overalls)
By now, most of the seasonal work being done by YCC crews in the Bay Area and around the country has wrapped up. Brian and Chadsity, like many YCC crew members, return to high school this fall, and they were ready to trade the workday grind for a few weeks of well-deserved rest and freedom before school started. For others who graduated this past spring, like Aaron and Michelle, this was the first step on their post-high school journey. Michelle will be attending UC Irvine in the fall while Aaron hopes to begin working towards a trade-based career as a mechanic. We wish all of them luck in their endeavors as they head away from their internship here at SAFR and we thank them for all their hard work with us this summer. The park wouldn’t look as amazing as it does without your help!