From time to time, many of us find ourselves taking a step back and admiring the handiwork of our fellow lovers of the outdoors—those volunteers who devote time and elbow grease to trail work.
We can think about it a bit differently, too, considering not just what we do for the trails, but what trail work does for those who perform that stewardship—especially our younger trail tenders. I’m proud to say that AMC plays a pivotal role in providing young people with leadership and stewardship training that has positive, long-lasting effects.
Through our Teen Volunteer Trail Crew program, for instance, participants ages 14 to 19 can meet new people and explore new places as they develop skills setting step stones, building rock staircases, and clearing drainages on trails throughout our region. In so doing, they are often learning about—and immersed in—bigger concepts, such as the importance of caring for and protecting natural resources. These teen programs continue to grow around the region, from new opportunities at New York’s Harriman Outdoor Center to further expansion in the Berkshires.
“Our environment-first approach helps to frame the importance of the work, and, in the end, our teen participants have solidly contributed to a project that has tangible benefits to the local area and larger environment,” says Alex DeLucia, the manager of AMC’s volunteer trails programs. “Moreover, the self-esteem gained working with a team on intense, challenging, and meaningful projects can be life-changing.”
So much so that some parents are amazed by the personal growth their children attain after serving on a volunteer crew. “Parents often tell us their son or daughter seems more confident, is suddenly eager to help with chores at home, and generally seems inspired by life after one of our programs,” DeLucia says.
We hear similar results regarding AMC’s involvement in Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG), managed by DeLucia in the New Hampshire towns of Berlin and Woodsville. JAG crews work with AMC trail crew leaders, gaining valuable, hands-on experience building and maintaining trails in their hometowns.
Sally Manikian, AMC’s backcountry resource conservation manager who initiated AMC’s involvement with JAG, tells of a crew member who returned to do work on his own time, “because he had helped build the trail and wanted to make sure it stayed in good shape,” Manikian says. “This sort of program provides an environment where young people can choose to succeed, and they
Watching teens build skills through AMC’s trail programs, we observe an amazing transformation: While these young people give back to the trails, the trails also give back to them, as they learn, grow, and recognize their personal responsibility to outdoor stewardship and leadership.
John D. Judge
CALL TO ACTION