July 31, 2015; Citizen-Times (Asheville, NC)

Keeping the Blue Ridge Parkway in the North Carolina mountains beautiful is an ongoing challenge. This national treasure, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, needs historic fencing rebuilt, removal of invasive plants, trees planted, and ongoing trail maintenance.

For the third summer, a remarkable partnership of a nonprofit organization, the federal government, and a local foundation is sponsoring the seven-week program of the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC). The partnership includes the Conservation Trust of North Carolina (CTNC) as the lead, with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the National Park Service, and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps as collaborators.

The CTNC uses private funds to support the N.C. program. One of the major donors is a local family whose father recently passed; he worked for the CCC in the original building of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Another family with local connections made a donation three years ago, making the program possible. The more established Vermont YCC program is providing technical assistance to the newer N.C. YCC program. An interesting outcome of that partnership is that the interns are paid the Vermont minimum wage of $9.60, which is higher than the North Carolina minimum wage.

The work crews camp in a nearby National Park Service campground and spend seven hours a day, five days a week for seven weeks, on projects like maintaining two miles of trail—including the construction of 40 feet of stepping stones and 23 water bars. Each day also includes an hour of education. The WoRD program, shorthand for Writing, Reading, and Discussion, encourages “thoughtful discussion about meaningful topics throughout the work week. The crews discuss what they have read and write in their journals.

The NCYCC program focuses on youth development using the platform of the natural environment. Participants must be North Carolina residents between the ages of 16 and 24. Applicants must be interviewed prior to acceptance into the program.

“We are excited to create a new generation of Parkway stewards through this meaningful partnership,” said Carolyn Ward, CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. One crewmember described the experience after five weeks: “I learned what an impact such a small group can make on the environment. It’s definitely something I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life.”—Jeanne Allen