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Southwest Conservation Corps hiring students for largest summer yet

Program has grown steadily in past four years

FARMINGTON – After more than 20 years in the area, the Southwest Conservation Corps is gearing up to hire one of its largest summer youth crews yet.

The program plans to hire about 65 students, almost four times more than 2016 when it hired 16 students, said Teresa DiTore, youth programs manager with Southwest Conservation Corps.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for youth in our communities to do some great work to improve their communities and instill leadership skills,” DiTore said.

The Southwest Conservation Corps runs a young adult AmeriCorps program and a youth program for high school students throughout the Four Corners. The youth crews are primarily from La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta and San Juan counties in Colorado, DiTore said.

Members of the Southwest Conservation Corps youth crew construct a fence at Colorado’s Lone Mesa State Park in 2018.

The youths are paid minimum wage for their project work during one of two four-week sessions offered each summer. DiTore said it is a stepping-stone experience for many of the students who either go on to future conservation work or use the opportunity to gain leadership skills and work experience before graduating.

Members of the Southwest Conservation Corps youth crew construct a fence at Colorado’s Lone Mesa State Park in 2018.

While the work varies from year to year, conservation crews of eight high school students and their adult leader typically spend the time outdoors, helping improve public lands and partnering with community organizations.

Previous crews have worked alongside the towns of Pagosa Springs, Telluride, Durango and Cortez, as well as organizations like Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Mesa Verde National Park and local nonprofits. In the past, projects have focused on building garden infrastructure, planting trees, building fences, trail improvements and a memorable mountain bike trail project.

A member of the Southwest Conservation Corps youth crew works at the Carpenter Natural Area in Cortez in 2018.

“It’s fun,” DiTore said of the mountain bike project. “A lot of them, they’re riding bikes with friends, and then get to come work on the trails.”

Although the program is geared toward the outdoors, DiTore said conservation knowledge and skills are not a requirement for participants.

“What we look for in students is excitement about the program and a willingness to learn,” she said. “The point is to introduce them to the outdoors if they don’t have experience yet.”

Overall, she said the program tries to create viable job opportunities for the high school students in the area, while also teaching leadership and communication skills.

Applications for the summer youth crew are accepted on a rolling basis, so people interested in applying are encouraged to do so soon, DiTore said.

lweber@durangoherald.com

A youth crew member with the Southwest Conservation Corps works at the Carpenter Natural Area in Cortez in 2018.
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