Eight participants of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Youth Conservation Corps are wrapping up their work this week, as this season's program nears its end.
'I learned a lot about the different careers on the refuge. It really let me figure out the direction I want to go.'
-- Kendra Lucas,
Youth Conservation Corps
"I'm sad it's ending," said participant Kendra Lucas. "I just realized this is the last week of sharpening my tools and was like, 'Noooo!'"
The YCC program is designed to provide employment to youths ages 15 to 18 and invoke in them an awareness of natural resources through environmental education. The program started June 16 and runs until Friday.
"Our crew has been working on various projects," said Michael Bernard, YCC coordinator.
Some of these projects include putting up fencing in the Moose Range Meadows boardwalk area to deter fishers from wandering onto private property, construction of the new Centennial Trail and helping in the restoration of the historic Caribou Island cabin on Tustumena Lake, he said.
Most of the projects involved quite a bit of manual labor, but nothing so hard the participants couldn't meet the challenge.
"My muscles were sore every day in the beginning from using the Pulaski," said Kelly King, referring to a tool that has a head with an ax on one side and a hoe on the other. The kids in the program came to know the tool well.
"The Centennial Trail was a lot of hard work," said Moicess Garcia. "We used the Pulaskis to clear roots and get out stumps. It was hard but ended up being my favorite project that we did."
Ashley Smith also enjoyed the experience.
"The program was a lot of hard work, but the work was really fun," she said.
The program wasn't just work, work, work, though. The participants had numerous opportunities for environmental education.
"I learned a lot about the different careers on the refuge," said Lucas. "It really let me figure out the direction I want to go."
She said she hopes to pursue refuge fire fighting next year.
"I learned a lot about animals and plants, and we got to go to Exit Glacier and that was really fun. I learned a lot of new facts," Lucas said.
All of the participants shared similar interests, and the program allowed them to form bonds with each other.
"I learned a lot about working with other people, and I made some good friends while in the program," Garcia said.
"Our group was very good. We all got along well. It really let me get to know people I might not normally meet," Smith said.
Other participants in the program included Aaron Singleton, Travis Gephardt, Josh Hunt and Jesse Kloote.
The participants in the program had a chance to get to know their leaders, too -- Bernard and assistant crew leader Laura Sauermilch. The participants had nothing but accolades for the two.
"Laura and Michael were great," Lucas said. "They kept us motivated."
Smith agreed, saying they made the work fun.
Sauermilch was in the program herself when she was a teen.
"It is great to come full circle and be a leader now," she said. "This was a wonderful year, and we were part of some great things, and the kids surpassed every expectation I had of them."
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