It’s a match made in heaven, thanks to the Student Conservation Association (SCA). This nonprofit connects eager volunteers with seasonal positions in national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, historic sites, urban parks, and more, providing them with training and financial support. Volunteers, who range from high school student crews to college grads to even older enthusiasts, do everything from trail work to environmental education and interpretation to field research. Not only do their efforts provide a tremendous boost to underfunded public lands, but SCA interns also gain critical career skills and nurture a lifelong ethic for land stewardship. Talk about a win-win.
Fittingly, it was a young idealist who got the whole program started. Elizabeth Titus Putnam, a Vassar College student, dreamed up the idea of a youth-led conservation corps for her senior thesis in 1953. The project became a reality in 1957, when the first SCA interns were placed at Olympic and Grand Teton National Parks. Since then, more than 80,000 people have participated, serving in all 50 states and contributing more than 1.5 million hours of service every year.
SCA interns can and do work in the marquee national parks, perhaps giving wildlife talks at Yosemite or sprucing up trails at the Grand Canyon. But the program encompasses much more than that. These five projects provide a snapshot of the wide variety of ways that the SCA supports public lands—and the people who love them.
Restoring Wildfire-Burned Zones in Shasta-Trinity National Forest
As the climate warms and wildfires become only a bigger problem across the West, a growing number of public lands need restoration after the blazes finally burn out. Three crews of SCA interns tackled that challenge last summer in Northern California, working through 100-plus-degree heat to improve access to recently burned parts of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The teams rebuilt bridges, cleared fallen trees, and stabilized eroded slopes, in some places working with handheld crosscut saws because chainsaws are prohibited.