By Ernie Murray
U. S. Forest Service
Instead of sitting in front of a TV screen playing video games all summer, four Kennard teens are getting some hands-on experience that no video game can match.
As part of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), Colby Adair, 16; O'Keefe Peterson, 17; Ethan Champagne, 15 and Damien Stowe, 16, are joining with 10 members of the American YouthWorks to do some much needed maintenance on trails and camping areas at Ratcliff Recreation Area in the Davy Crockett National Forest.
"These folks hit the ground running from the first day," said Linda Reynolds, recreation technician for the U.S. Forest Service. "This is a good bunch of folks and they all have great personalities that work well together."
One of the main projects the group tackled was replacing and reinforcing a foot bridge that had been washed off its footing along the 4C Trail. Adair, Peterson, Champagne and Stowe helped carry a large timber from the supply truck to the bridge a quarter-mile away then hiked back to get another one.
For Davy Crockett National Forest District Ranger J. R. Lawrence, the YCC and American YouthWorks crews provide a valuable service.
"Ratcliff (recreation area) has had more than its share of bad luck, starting back in 2008 when winds from Hurricane Ike came through. Then in April 2011, a tornado struck the lake area and just as we were ready to reopen in January 2012, the devastating effects of the drought became apparent and hundreds of pines and hardwoods died," Lawrence said.
"The American YouthWorks crew is basically refurbishing the entire 4C Trail by brushing out overgrown trail segments, repairing bridges and retagging the path to make it easier for users to stay on the trail. They are doing outstanding work," he said.
The four Kennard teens all have slightly differing reasons for joining YCC, but all agree that it's a great way to stay in shape for athletics when school starts in the fall.
Peterson jumped at the chance to be outside this summer and says his sister was in YCC a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it.
Champagne says he loves working outside, but never thought it would be so hard.
Stowe plans to be a game warden and says this is good way to get some on the ground experience.
Adair, the only girl in the Kennard group, says she has enjoyed cutting the brush along the overflow area of the lake and likes that she is just six minutes from home.
Helping to guide the youth is their crew leader, Zachary McCrimmon, from New Braunfels.
"We work rain or shine, sun up to sun down." he said. "We all work together and learn from each other. It's like we have a community of knowledge," McCrimmon said.
As a member of American YouthWorks, McCrimmon has spent most of his time on a disaster reserve team and working in state parks. Other crew leaders are Priscilla Tanger, Hanover and Ricky Reedy.
Other crew members working in the Davy Crockett National Forest include Taylor Wolter, Adam Barnett, Katrina Himmelreich, Sascha Wunderlin, Michelle Sheldon, Elena Smart and Kellan Fisher.
The YCC program began in 1974 for high school youth that combined hands on conservation work on public lands with environmental education. American YouthWorks began in 1981 and is an education and green jobs training organization, headquartered in Austin.