California teens volunteer in wilderness |

California teens volunteer in wilderness

by Christy Chalmers, Tribune News Service

A Sierra Nevada valley and several Bay area teenagers are trading good and lasting impressions.

The students are camping in Bagley Valley, south of Heenan Lake in Alpine County, to do conservation work. They are affiliated with the Student Conservation Association, a national group that matches high school students with conservation work.

Since early June, SCA members have been building head cuts and check dams and planting willows to reduce erosion along old irrigation ditches and creeks in Bagley Valley. They will also be helping to realign part of a dirt road through the area to further decrease erosion.

“We’re just trying to put a halt to what’s going on,” said Catherine Harney, one of two adult crew leaders.

Steve Hale, a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said much of the damage is a reflection of the valley’s former use as a cattle range. The soil is fragile and erodes easily, and runoff has carved several gullies.

The SCA crews spend 10 days doing conservation work, then go on a four-day recreation trip. The six-member SCA crew that was working in the final week of June was looking forward to a four-day backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail when they finished in the valley. Another group was scheduled to arrive in Bagley after them.

The two-week summer work and recreation trip is a “challenge” in SCA parlance. Tam Pham, 16, of San Francisco said she learned about SCA from a counselor at Burton High School, where she will be starting her senior year.

She applied for the program in the middle of her junior year. Those accepted then spend one weekend a month learning outdoor skills before their summer challenge.

Pham is considering attending New York University, and the conservation field may be in her future.

“I’m really interested in this,” she said. “I think I’ll consider it.”

For some participants, the challenge is in being away from home and its creature comforts.

“This is the biggest challenge because I have to go away from (my) family, and I miss them,” said Trang Bui, 16, who will be a senior at Fremont High School.

All agreed seeing their finished work is a big reward. Harney said the participants may also be eligible for scholarships after two years of SCA work, as well as trips with Outward Bound, an outdoor-oriented group that works with teenagers.

Harney, who teaches environmental education to middle schoolers, is marking her first summer with SCA. She moved from Atlanta in January.

“It’s great, just getting to be out here with exceptional people,” she said. “They all are exceptional and very enthusiastic.”

The group spent the last week of June braving afternoon thunder showers, and admitted they were a little tired of camping with solar showers. Asked the first thing they’d do when they returned home, the answer was unanimous:

“Hot showers!”

And they happily accepted a surprise cooler full of ice cream from Hale. Before he left, he asked if the crew had enough ice to preserve the ice cream.

After a short caucus, crew co-leader Michael Espenan issued a confident prediction:

“It should be fine. They say they’ll be able to eat all the ice cream.”

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