Youth Conservation/Service Corps and Community Outreach


Statewide Conservation Trails Crew

In 2022 NJ State Park Service was awarded $103,000.00 from the Recreational Trails Program grant to fund the Statewide Conservation Trails Crew Program, a partnership with two Youth Corps located within overburdened communities/environmental justice communities and NJ State Parks.

The two Youth Corps entered 5-week agreements to assist in trail improvement projects while providing outdoor learning experiences provided by NJ State Park staff and talented volunteer trail experts. Each Youth Corps was comprised of a 5 to 7 trail crew and accompanied by a qualified trail crew leader.

This project was thoughtfully planned out, including identifying park staff who had experience connecting with youth from disadvantaged areas, appropriate projects to match the skill level of the youth corps and consideration of obstacles that might inhibit a group from an overburdened community from a successful experience. The RTP grant funds allowed the NJ State Park Service to monetarily compensate the Youth Corps members in addition to ensuring that all transportation, food, tools and appropriate safety gear was provided at no cost to the Youth Corps. The RTP funds were also used to purchase the materials for the various trail projects, staff funding for a NJ State Park Service employee dedicated to this partnership and rental of vehicle that stored the necessary tools and materials the numerous trail improvement sites.

The Phillipsburg Youth Corps was awarded an agreement with NJ State Parks to partner in trail projects identified on hiking trails located in Worthington State Forest and Spruce Run Recreational Area. Worthington State Forest is home to a section of the Appalachian Trail and numerous trail connections from highly popular areas located within Worthington. Prior to the trail work beginning, the park staff and the NY/NJ Trails Conference volunteers shared their knowledge of tool safety and maintenance, bear and tick awareness, plant identification and highlighted the importance of hydration as the temperatures for the workdays were over 90 degrees. The group worked closely with park staff to remove unauthorized social trails, installation of kiosks and invasive species removal along the trails. But by far, the most impressive work this Youth Corps tackled at Worthington was working with the skilled NY/NJ Trails Conference volunteers to reroute a trail to address erosion issues and build a rock stairway along the Fairview Trail system that connect to the AT. The Youth Corps members were incredibly proud of the work they were able to achieve with the help of skilled volunteers. The Youth Corps members also got to experience how park staff manage Timber Rattlesnake encounters, when a rattlesnake was spotted where the trail was planned to be routed to. Timber Rattlesnakes are an endangered species in NJ and only trained staff are permitted to move these snakes. The park service did have trained staffed on site but luckily, when given time and space the rattlesnake moved out of harm’s way without any interference. It was a highlight of project for the Youth Corps members to encounter and learn firsthand about one of NJ’s endangered species. Spruce Run Recreation Area’s projects focused on the Warren Highland Trail which is geographically located very close to the community that the Youth Corps members reside in. These projects included the clearing of vegetative brush from trail edges and installation of trail post markers throughout different sections of this trail. Park staff worked side by side with the youth members, sharing their in-depth knowledge of the natural resources found along the trail as well as the rich history of the area. In closing of the project on the Warren Highland Trail, the group gathered together around the trail maps to highlight the sections of the trail they had helped to improve. It was at this point that the Youth Corps could see the connections that their dedication and hard work created.

The second youth corps NJ State Park partnered with was The Work Group which is based in the City of Camden. Appropriate trail projects were identified at Bredan T. Byrne State Forest, Dr. James Still Historic Office Site and Parvin State Park. As with the Phillipsburg Youth Corps, park staff shared safety and tool knowledge with the youth. This Youth Group is located in a highly urbanized area and many of the members never had the opportunity to visit any of their state parks, so park staff worked hard to ensure the members felt welcomed to areas and tried to provide experiences to help connect the corps members to park environment. At Parvin State Park the group worked with park staff to improve a public parking area that provides access to a water trail and improvements the boat access area. This included hard, laborious work moving stone and installing posts so, as a show of the park’s appreciation, the parks offered to provide a boating experience along the water trail the corps member helped to improve. At Brendan T. Byrne the youth corps tackled the construction of a large puncheon along one of the multiuse trails located withing the park. The Corps members were taught how to use hand and power tools to help build and install the puncheon on site. The Youth Corps were able to take their newly learned skills over to the final site of the Dr. James Still Historic Office Site. The Youth Corp worked with park staff, volunteers and family descendants of Dr. James Still to build wide puncheons that would allow volunteers to maintain the hiking trails within the Site. Dr. James Still Historic Office Site honors the man known as the Black Doctor of the Pines who was prominent figure in Southern NJ and had family ties to the Underground Railroad. The Youth Corps members learned about the inspiring stories of Dr. Still from his family descendants who were pivotal in preserving the site. As testament to the success of the relationships created by this Recreational Trails Program grant, NJ State Parks have been able to continue partner projects with The Work Group after the contracted agreement had expired. This Youth Corps has become a regular volunteer group at these sites, and we look forward to our continued partnerships.

This grant has provided an avenue for us to connect with the youth from areas that historically we have not been a part of. Bringing the Youth Corps to our park locations has provided them an opportunity to learn new skills, experience the beauty of nature and the complex history found within NJ but, we believe the benefit to NJ State Parks was much greater. Beyond the obvious on the ground improvements to many NJ State Park facilities, this grant allowed our staff and volunteers to foster relationships that can broaden our experiences to ensure we are considering the opinions and needs of the public we serve.

More winners of this award

2021: Evans Creek ORV Area

2020: Monadnock Trail Improvement Project

2019: Lassen Peak Trail

2018: Pole Mountain Trails - Wyoming

2017: Arizona Conservation Corps Mogollon Rim Ancestral Lands Trail Crew - Arizona

2016: Rock Creek Park Bridge Project - District of Columbia

2016: Utah Conservation Corps Bike Crew - Utah

2015: Iowa DNR Americorps Trail Crew - Iowa

2014: Alaska Trails Mobile Tool Trailers

2013: Leicester Hollow Loop Trail - Vermont

2012: Mount Yale Trail Realignment - Colorado

2011: Anchorage Hillside Singletrack Trail System - Alaska

2010: Hyde Park Heritage Greenway - New York

2009: North Bend Lake Equestrian Trail - West Virginia

2007: Continental Divide Trail Alliance Youth Corps

2006: Swallow Falls Trails and Muddy Creek Falls Overlook - Maryland

2005: Superior Hiking Trail - Minnesota

2004: North Fork I and II Trail Projects - Oregon

2003: North Fork Boise River Trail Rehabilitation - Idaho