This year’s Student Conservation Association Trail Crew Program participants, above, take a break from maintenance work on the Cinnamon Bay Trail with Audrey Penn, right.
While teenagers across the country enjoy the freedom of summer vacation, eight young people are spending their days with two leaders clearing overlooks and rebuilding retaining walls in the V.I. National Park.
Friends of VINP has been partnering with Student Conservation Association’s Trail Crew Program for more than a decade to bring young adults from across the states and the territory to help maintain trails in the park.
The latest group of SCA Trail Crew workers arrived on St. John from as far away as Minnesota and as near as St. Thomas on June 15 and will spend four weeks living and working in VINP. The group, eight crew members and two leaders, stay at a group camp at Cinnamon Bay Campground and have already cleared the overlook area and rebuilt a rock wall on the Lind Point trail.
Last week the crew was busy building a rock platform at the top of Cinnamon Bay trail so hikers could rest without standing on Centerline Road. The SCA crew will also rebuild a retaining wall on the Cinnamon Bay trail and is expected to help maintain a total of between six to eight miles of trails before wrapping up work in July.
Jesus Ayale, a 16-year-old student at Central High School on St. Croix, was excited to be able to spend his time outside this summer, instead of on his Crucian couch, he explained.
“I found out about the program through my teacher at CHS, who was a leader here two years ago,” said Ayale. “I wanted to work in nature and this is perfect.”
Looking at the crew’s efforts after spending a day working in the hot sun on a trail was the best part of the SCA Trail Crew Program experience for Ayale, he explained.
“The best part is when we are all done working and we see the results,” said Ayale. “It’s awesome.”
Sophie Katz from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is no new-comer to working and living close to nature. The 16-year-old found the SCA Trail Crew after spending the past two summers outdoors, she explained.
“I’ve done a few things like this and I was looking for something different,” said Katz. “I went to a wolf sanctuary in Colorado and last summer I spent a month living on a sailboat and doing trail work in the British Virgin Islands.”
Although Katz was somewhat prepared for what she would find with SCA on Love City, the teenager was still surprised by a few things.
“I didn’t know how hot it was on land,” said Katz. “But being at Cinnamon Bay Campground is great because you are so close to the beach.”
Twins Emily and Emma Jn. Baptiste also heard about the program through their teacher at CHS on St. Croix. The two just graduated from high school an both plan to attend the University of the Virgin Islands, but took the opportunity to spend a month together in VINP.
“There is no worst part of this,” said Emily Jn. Baptiste. “I would definitely recommend this program to other people; it’s great.”
The Crucian twins were working hard last week on and off the trails. The Jn. Baptiste sisters were named the best cooks in the crew and introduced several of their crew mates to West Indian staples pate and johnny cakes.
Seventeen-year-old Richard Driscoll from St. Thomas will be a senior at Antilles next year. His love of the outdoors inspired Driscoll to sign up for the SCA Trail Crew Program.
“My counselor at school told me about the program and I thought it sounded interesting,” said Driscoll. “The work is hard at times, but all of the people on the crew are really nice. The best part is how well everyone gets along.”
Paulina Spencer from Raleigh, North Carolina, heard about SCA from two friends who took part in the group’s summer trail crew program.
“One of my friends went to Alaska with SCA and another friend went to Idaho,” said Spencer. “When I found out I was coming here, I danced around my house. I love just being out here working and getting my hands dirty.”
Michael Moran from Jacksonville, Florida, spent last summer working with SCA’s Trail Crew Program in Idaho. This summer, he’s having even more fun enjoying the beauty of St. John while working in nature.
“I’m having a great time,” said Moran. “I was so excited when I found out I was coming here. It’s totally different from where I worked in Idaho and from where I’m from in Florida.”
“The whole thing has been a lot of fun, but the best part is knowing that all the people who walk these trails will have a better experience because of us,” said Moran.
Sean Roy from Toledo, Ohio, heard about the SCA Trail Program from his sister who took worked on trails two years ago. While he was hoping to have fun, the program has been even better than he expected.
“It’s a lot better than I thought it would be,” said Roy. “I thought it was going to be fun, but I didn’t know I would be grouped with such great people and great leaders.”
Being an SCA Trail Crew leader couldn’t be a better fit for Ryan Fischer, who recently graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in outdoor recreation and leadership management.
“It’s going really well out here this summer,” said Fischer. “I had big expectations for the group and they’ve done even better than I was hoping. It’s really a great group of kids who work really hard.”
Anna Brown, from Bemidji, Minnesota, is back leading an SCA Trail Crew on St. John for her second summer in a row. Last year’s crew was a special group of youngsters who really bonded and this year Brown was surprised to find more of the same.
“We really did have a special crew last year and this year the group is amazing again,” said Brown. “All of them are so positive and enthusiastic. They work really hard, but they find a way to make it fun.”
The group’s first project at Lind Point was expected to take about four days, but this trail crew wrapped it up in less than two, Brown explained.
“They work really hard, but they are so positive,” she said. “They are also sharing some of their culture too. Some of the kids are learning patois and Spanish and eating great local food.”
The cultural sharing aspect of the SCA Trail Crew Program is exactly why Friends of VINP’s program manager Audrey Penn loves partnering with the group each summer.
“It’s a really unique program,” said Penn. “In addition to the environmental awareness, the kids also learn cross cultural awareness. The local kids get to share their culture and they get to learn about the stateside kids too.”
For more information about SCA, check out www.thesca.org. For more information about Friends of VINP, call 779-4940.