Five Hood River Valley High School students got to spend their summer jobs in an office as big as all outdoors, thanks in part to a $10,000 Oregon Investment Board grant.
The teens worked on a recreation crew, meeting 20 hours a week to maintain trails and campgrounds up and down the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
On Thursday the seven-week program drew to a close, and students walked away from a program that boasted not only wages, but a sense of camaraderie and fun.
The crew was created when Marcia LaDuke, assistant superintendent with the Hood River County School District, applied for a Scenic Area Workforce Grant last winter on behalf of the district.
The grant was awarded and the recreation crew was formed, joining three trails crews and one campgrounds crew already at work in the scenic area.
“The kids are learning job-related skills that can help them hold better jobs in the future,” said LaDuke. “The goal is to give kids as much support as we can, so they can earn family-supporting wages someday.”
The students worked on projects developed by the Forest Service, clearing roads, painting, trimming brush and branches, and cleaning campgrounds and trailheads at locations including Eagle Creek Overlook, Herman Creek, Wahkeena, Wachlella and Wyeth.
The crew members included Daniela Rojas, Jerry Bell, Tracy Schwebke and Elvia Loera. Team leader Courtney Smith had to leave the program a week early for soccer practice, and Loera took over in her place. The group was supervised by Hector Ortiz, an instructional assistant at Parkdale Elementary School.
“During the first week it was hard to get them going, but once they got it they just went ‘zoom!’” said Ortiz. “I don’t think the Forest Service expected us to finish the campgrounds so fast.”
“The best part was getting paid and having fun while we worked,” Schwebke said. “In most jobs you don’t get to have much fun.”
Along with the first-year recreation crew, the campground and trail crews have employed over 300 teens in the Mid-Columbia region during the last nine years. Other funding bodies for the programs include the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments, the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps, and the Mazamas club of Portland, along with revenues from federally-issued Northwest Forest Passes and a Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) grant.
“I truly can see that these programs make a difference,” said Patti Ann Monzie, acting administrative officer for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. “We’ve touched so many lives.”
Through journals kept by the students, Monzie gained an insight into their summer experience.
“It’s amazing how much they open up about the friendships formed, the tools used, and the views seen,” said Monzie.