The sounds of summer are only a few weeks away: kids laughing and playing at the park, the conspicuous jingle of the ice cream truck, the buzz of lawnmowers cutting the grass, pickaxes and shovels clinking on hardened earth and rock. Wait, pickaxes and shovels? That’s right: Summer is trail work season in New England.
Working on a trail crew gets teens outdoors, teaches them new skills and, in the case of AMC’s newest crew hailing from western Massachusetts, gets them paid—all in the name of conservation.
Beginning in late June, five teens from Holyoke, Mass., will work on AMC’s first paid youth crew in the state. For the duration of the eight-week program, the teens will work exclusively on the New England National Scenic Trail, a 215-mile long-distance hiking trail that stretches from the Massachusetts–New Hampshire border in the north to the Connecticut shoreline in the south. The new program, funded by the National Park Service and AMC, mirrors New Hampshire’s JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates)–AMC trail crew model, which employs at-risk urban and rural youth to work on trail rehabilitation projects statewide.
“AMC has been looking for opportunities to employ the JAG model somewhere else in New England,” says Alex DeLucia, AMC’s volunteer program manager, who launched the JAG–AMC trail crew in 2011. “As AMC has been developing its presence in Holyoke, on the New England Trail, we are transitioning from a policy-oriented focus to more trail maintenance and volunteer engagement. That’s why these crews are so important.”
AMC is partnering with the Holyoke-based nonprofit CareerPoint to recruit and prescreen applicants, ages 16 to 19. CareerPoint also will teach the new hires basic job skills—using a time card, filling out paperwork, and practicing proper work etiquette—before their first day on the trail. From there, AMC trail crew leaders will train the teens in everything from using tools to safety protocol to Leave No Trace principles. “Applicants don’t need a lot of experience,” DeLucia says. “Just a willingness to work outside and an understanding of what they are signing up for.”
As for what makes this gig stand out from other summer jobs, DeLucia says every day will be different. “First off, you get to work outside. You get to bond with crew members and go home dirty and exhausted, with stories to tell your friends.” In an economically disadvantaged city like Holyoke, where 63 percent of public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch, many families expect teens to work over the summer. That means many high schoolers don’t have the opportunity to volunteer for an unpaid trail crew, such as the programs that run out of AMC’s Camp Dodge Volunteer Center in New Hampshire. It also means those teens might otherwise miss out on time outdoors.
Briget Likely, AMC’s New England Trail planner, says crew members will get a lot out of this program, but perhaps most importantly, they’ll learn where they can go outside. “Many Holyoke youth have never visited Mount Tom State Reservation, a property the New England Trail passes through, just 15 minutes from downtown Holyoke,” she says.
Although the trail crew currently is funded for 2018 only, DeLucia is applying for grants for future years, to employ more Holyoke teens. “It was really eye-opening for the Berlin students [JAG–AMC trail crew in New Hampshire] to learn about all the jobs with the Forest Service and AMC,” he says. “We can expose teens to a whole spectrum of opportunities in conservation. We want them to understand everything: from conservation policy and land management, to environmental research and science, to AMC’s lodges and huts.”
The Holyoke trail crew is just a start. In 2019, AMC plans to roll out a paid teen trail crew on Massachusetts’s 230-mile Bay Circuit Trail.
“Land trusts dominate practically every town in Massachusetts,” DeLucia says. “These paid crews are stepping stones to jobs and endeavors in AMC’s region and across the country. So there’s a lot of opportunity for teens to build a meaningful career path, starting with us.”