Youth and Conservation Corps programs are both versatile and cost-effective. They allow young people to accomplish important conservation, community restoration and human service projects, while also developing employment and citizenship skills.
From National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse
In fall of 2004, officials noticed that a pond in Maine’s Cobbossee Watershed was suffering from pollution as a result of runoff from an eroding local road. During the next several summers since that observation was made, the city of Augusta has hosted young adults from across the country to stay for eight weeks at a time and work to improve the water quality of the distressed Woodbury Pond. As the youths worked their summers away to protect this community resource, they in turn gained valuable experience and skills.
This mutually beneficial relationship all began when the Maine Department of Transportation awarded Transportation Enhancements (TE) funds to ameliorate the runoff from the road. The TE award involved the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. Corps participants were selected to work with the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed on various aspects of the transportation project, giving them environmental insight and hands-on experience. The pollution in Woodbury Pond was a result of sediment runoff from the eroded ditch and shoulder of Hallowell Road. The runoff was washing out into a narrow strip of wetland, and being deposited into the pond. Work was initiated to pave the shoulder and stabilize the ditch to reduce future erosion. Certain segments of the ditch were dug up and later filled with gravel to provide additional runoff storage and act as a filter. The roadside was reshaped and stabilized with vegetation and erosion control mulch. The AmeriCorps participants helped to plant and maintain a sensitive length of the ditch, measuring 800 linear feet. The team’s work provided ecological and aesthetic benefits to local landowners and the entire community.
Young adults are similarly engaged in TE projects all over the country through their involvement in youth corps. In Washington, DC, Earth Conservation Corps members worked on a major component of a transportation initiative known as the Anacostia Riverwalk and Trail. In Hawaii, the Lihue Gateway Project at the island of Kauai’s airport was a popular landscaping and beautification endeavor involving Job Corps. In Alaska, young adults from Serve Alaska Youth Corps are learning skills and keeping roadsides beautiful. Washington State now hosts a beautifully restored trail that leads to some of its most scenic areas thanks to work that Washington Service Corps contributed.
How Youth Corps Organizations Can Become Involved in TE Projects
Use of youth corps in Transportation Enhancements projects is encouraged by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). FHWA’s role with youth corps began with a provision in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 that requires the US Department of Transportation to encourage states to enter into contracts and cooperative agreements with youth service and conservation corps to perform Transportation Enhancements activities. This encouragement is also included in the FHWA Guidance on Transportation Enhancements. Although Transportation Enhancements funds are provided to states through federal legislation, each state has its own process to solicit and select proposals.
Some states require that applicants for TE funds be a government agency, while others allow non profits to apply for a TE award directly. Check with your state’s TE Manager to determine who is eligible to apply. (To find the TE Manager for your state, see www.enhancements.org/contacts.asp). If only government agencies are allowed to apply for funds, it is possible for a youth corps to partner with an agency to propose projects. Youth corps staff, generally the Executive Director or a Program Coordinator, can work with project sponsors and partners to fashion a contract or a cooperative agreement to carry out all or part of an enhancements project.
Benefits to TE and Youth Corps
The potential benefits that communities can gain from using youth corps in Transportation Enhancements are numerous. Young, eager workers who are actively seeking experience and training can provide a burst of energy to any project. Their work is significant in that it is an investment into the future of the whole community.
Use of youth corps through Transportation Enhancements projects is reciprocally beneficial. Corps members, by serving the transportation needs of a community, are also investing in their own future. The report “Youth Corps: Promising Strategies for Young People and Their Communities,” from Abt Associates and Brandeis University, demonstrates that young people who join a corps experience higher rates of employment and higher average wages than their counterparts. The report further reveals that corps members, particularly those at risk, score higher on measures of personal and social responsibility, are more likely to vote, and are more likely to earn a college degree. Additionally, corps generate $1.60 in immediate benefits for every $1.00 of costs.
Washington’s Cape Flattery Trail Restored
For years, some of Washington State’s most breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean’s rocky shores and of its northwestern wilderness could only be seen after traversing a muddy, poorly maintained trail with dangerous plunging cliffs. The Cape Flattery Trail was in dire need of restoration. In 1996, the Washington Service Corps partnered with the Makah Tribal Council, and with the help of a Transportation Enhancements award, were able to repair and enhance this stunning trail. The seven-member team began by cutting back the overgrowth of salal and salmonberry brush that had begun to impede on the trail. This cleared the way for the team to build a boardwalk and bridges through the scenic marshland.
Cedar safety rails were constructed, as well as drains to keep rainwater runoff off the trail, protecting it from erosion and damage. The parking area at the trailhead was graded and interpretive signage and directions were posted. Future maintenance of the trail was ensured when team members recruited 25 community volunteers to organize a “Trail Watch program” to monitor the trail for damage due to vandalism, weather, and wear and tear. As a result of this effort, the trail has become an economic resource to the area, contributing to the boom of ecotourism as a leading industry.
Youth Enhance Alaska’s Scenery
In 1996, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOTPF) was considering the use herbicides to clear brush from roadsides and guardrails. Herbicide use can be problematic for public and ecological health. Fortunately, the need for herbicides was avoided when Serve Alaska Youth Corps teamed up with ADOTPF ten years ago.
The Serve Alaska Youth Corps teams have since become an asset to the beautified Alaskan highways. Corps participants contribute to Transportation Enhancements projects that help conserve and beautify the scenic roadsides of Alaska. Crews have worked to increase signage visibility, clear corners for sight distance, clear trees in areas of known animal crossings, increase and improve road drainage, and clear brush from under and around guardrails. The young adults are trained in highway safety, tool maintenance and operation, and flagging, giving them experience to help them succeed in the future. The success of the corps’ work is demonstrated by the scenic and herbicide-free roadsides of Alaska that continue to exist today.
FIND A CORPS NEAR YOU
There are several types of corps with various policies, age levels, and funding mechanisms. Certified Youth and Conservation Corps are members of The Corps Network, which maintains a nationwide directlry of current organizations. These are typically nonprofit organizations as well as local and state government entities. Federally run programs include the Job Corps, an education and vocational training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. AmeriCorps provides funding for young adults working for many of the local corps organizations.
For more information on each, see:
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Updated March 28, 2009