Youth Corps 'makes a difference'

Local conservation, environment group has banner year

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— Becky Rupnow returned as a volunteer to the Yampa Valley Science School during her senior year at Steamboat Springs High School because she wanted to give back to the environment.

But she noted the most lasting impression of her three-week experience, which borrows the woods, wetlands and meadows surrounding the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp outside of Steamboat to teach lessons about ecosystems, was the impact it had on the Routt County sixth-graders who attend the camp.

"By the end of the week they are reciting numbers and facts from our lessons, and it just meant so much to me, and it was so rewarding," she said. "I mean, I was once one of them, and I totally remember everything about conifers and aspens."

The Science School is one of many programs administered by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which ended its 2007 conservation year with more enrolled crew members, completed conservation projects, and trails constructed or maintained than ever before.

The city of Steamboat Springs' Parks, Open Spaces and Recreation Services Department established the corps in 1993 as a way for teens and young adults to develop job skills, work ethic, service to the community and educational opportunities.

The corps has since been privatized and obtained nonprofit status, which RMYC officials said has enabled the organization to expand its geographical boundaries and create more funding opportunities

"Overall, the 2007 conservation season was a total success in terms of the number of youth participating and serving on public lands, as well as success in the number of projects completed," said Mark Wertheimer, program director for the RMYC.

"But we are already looking at changes for 2008 - looking to connect with people in this area before we fill positions with folks who are coming from all over the country," he said.

Traditionally, conservation volunteers are college or post-graduate students who come to Steamboat from other areas, while the Science School employs the efforts of local high school students.

Other areas of focus for 2008 include a possible crew exchange with the California Conservation Corps.

"We had a very successful experience with sending a work crew down to the Gulf Coast region to help this summer in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina," Wertheimer said. "We are now looking to continue to expand our focus outside of the central Rockies."

A round-up of the RMYC's conservation corps achievements include 87 participating crew members, 38 priority conservation projects completed, 34.3 miles of trails constructed or maintained, and 27,000 square feet of environmental restoration.

"The number of projects we did went up 25 percent or so this past year, so you see an increase across the board in the amount of things we completed," he said.

Rupnow, who plans to attend Stanford University next year, said she isn't sure if she'd return to Steamboat to be a conservation crew member, but she knows her Science School experience will always keep the environment close to her heart.

"I received some letters from some of the students I helped at the Science School about all the things they learned," she said. "It was so cute, and it shows that I can really make a difference."

- To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com

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