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Exploring outdoor opportunities
August 07, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Jason Mai/Daily Journal San Mateo County Park Ranger Mario Nastari, right, helps Student Conservation Association volunteer Vanessa Romero build a gate around the Jepson Laurel

Jason Mai/Daily Journal SCA volunteer Liam O'Hara, left, steadies a piece of wood for volunteer Marcus Avelar to saw.


Those who visited San Mateo County parks this summer may have noticed some upgrades to the trails or new fences.

That work may have been completed by local teens. Student Conservation Association, a nationwide conservation workforce of college and high school volunteers who work to protect and restore America’s parks, will soon wrap up a five-week program to upgrade local parks. For the teens, it provides an opportunity to gain work experience, a $1,000 stipend and exposure to environmental issues like restoration needs and green jobs.

Among those working this summer is 18-year-old Vanessa Romero. In her second year with the program, Romero has helped with trail maintenance, drainage dips and making safety changes to local parks.

"I think it’s a job that teens can get something out of. This program allows for you to interact with people. It’s a hands-on experience and you’re doing something for the community,” she said.

This year, 16 Peninsula teens, ages 16 to 19, are part of the two crews in San Mateo County. It takes Bay Area SCA Coordinator Carri Katonah a couple months to put together the five crews throughout the Bay Area for the summer program. Most of her connections are made through presentations at schools or counselors. Students must fill out an application then Katonah interviews each viable candidate. It’s a short interview, but she said it’s important practice for the teens, many of whom have never had an interview before.

Katonah actually started working with SCA as a crew leader then took on her current role about two years ago.

"As a crew leader, I was inspired with what it brings together. [SCA] gives youth the opportunity to be in the outdoors. We have many parks and yet not everyone has access to them,” she said adding teens also get job skills and learn about environmental issues.

After only five weeks, Katonah notices a change in the teens. Often they start out a bit shy, nervous about meeting new people and working with unfamiliar tools. By the end, they are taking initiative, she said.

Seventeen-year-old Nestor Martinez, from Redwood City, has worked a few construction jobs making him familiar with much of the work he’s been doing this summer. He was drawn to the opportunity to do something for the local environment.

"I’ve learned that humans are dirty,” said Martinez who added the experience has already changed some of his habits. For example, he now picks up trash he sees in the community. "It doesn’t seem like much, but that trash can add up.”

It’s not just the teens who are taking something from the program.

Farah Winer is working as a crew leader this summer. Winer, who lives in Loma Mar, works at an outdoor school and often takes advantage of the local trails.

"I’ll definitely never look at a trail the same way,” she said.

Winer’s working in a management role has taught her about the importance of patience. In terms of the environmental projects, she’s also learning more about the reasons behind work being done in parks. In particular, she has a greater understanding of the balance needed between conservation and managing the land. Trails are engineered, she explained, in hopes of keeping people off other areas.

Students work Monday through Thursday then take environmental field trips on Friday to learn about other local opportunities, said Katonah.

Over this summer, the program has helped construct more than 20 drainage dips and clear debris from two miles of trail at San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica. Teens helped to remove and rebuild 100 feet of split rail fencing at Huddart County Park, held a beach cleanup at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and widened 100 feet of trail at Wunderlich County Park.

This fall, the hope is to expand locally by launching a year-round Green Jobs training program for East Palo Alto youth. The nonprofit will partner with high schools, land management agencies, youth and environmental nonprofits, green businesses and others with the goal of creating at least 385 positions for Bay Area youth.


To learn more about the Student Conservation Association visit www.thesca.org.


Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.


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