Girl power: Youth corps workers get dirty

by Cassie Lahtinen
The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) and the Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) recently combined their efforts to launch their first all-girl tribal conservation crew on the KBIC L’Anse Reservation. The five-member team had the opportunity to experience firsthand what a career in natural resources has to offer.
Daily tasks ranged from creating spawning habitat for trout and setting sea lamprey traps to cleaning up after the nasty wildfires that tore through the Upper Peninsula earlier this spring. Although some projects were favored more than others, all days ended with a new knowledge and respect for the environment.
Two experiences SWP crew leaders supervised three KBIC youth crews (one all-girl crew and two co-ed crews). In addition to working on a wide variety of conservation and restoration projects, the crews also participated in regular environmental education sessions and were required to keep a daily journal of their experiences.
For more than a decade, the SWP has offered a summer conservation program for Upper Peninsula youth. The 2009 cooperative venture has been a huge success, with a wider variety of conservation projects, improved crew training, outdoor recreation opportunities, cultural events, journaling, T-shirts and more. SWP crew leaders include Cassie Lahtinen and Dave Magno.
SuperiorWatershedPartnership-1-1If persistence really does pay off, these girls would be millionaires. On the first canoe outing of the summer, two girls tipped their canoes over, getting a mouthful of pond water, and one slipped in from shore.
After spending the rest of the day soaking wet and uncomfortable, the girls were surprised to find out they’d be doing it all over again the next day. But, instead of dwelling on their bad experience, the girls stepped bravely into the canoes once again as if the previous day had never happened. And, success came with the second try. No tipping. No falling.
Although hauling rocks in the pouring rain, clipping fish fins, pulling invasive weeds and scooping algae may not be the most glamorous of jobs, the girls felt satisfaction from the help they were giving the community. After a day of raking and weed eating at a Native Cemetery one crew member writes, “It kinda felt good to better the community and it looked really nice afterwards.”
After what seems like a slump in interest for the outdoors and environment by area youth, a peak in curiosity started by a few individuals may be the spark Mother Nature needs. And, if teenage girls continue being teenage girls, a friend may tell a friend who will tell another friend about their fun and exciting outdoor experience, hopefully creating attention, awareness, and concern in those with whom they socialize.
I asked the girls to describe their job in one word. I heard: “fun,” “educational” and “interesting.” It’s not often you get to hear these three words in the same sentence, especially in context with hard, sweaty, buggy work.
Then again, it’s not often an opportunity like this arises for teens. Thanks to KBIC for the financial support to make the Superior Youth Conservation Corps possible.
For details, call 228-6095 or visit www.superiorwatersheds.org
—Cassie Lahtinen

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