Outdoor Youth Corps Alternative Spring Break Adventure

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Outdoor Youth Corps Alternative Spring Break Adventure

Spring break usually brings thoughts of relaxation, sleeping in, and spending the break doing everything or absolutely nothing at all. However, 10 youth and young adults dedicated their spring break to make an environmental impact!

These participants joined the Outdoor Youth Corps (OYC) program for an Alternative Spring Break opportunity. The Outdoor Youth Corps program is a paid education and workforce development program that connects youth and young adults, ages 16 to 20, with projects and career paths focused on conservation, horticulture, sustainability, and community engagement in the greater St. Louis area. The Alternative Spring Break program was led by Conservation Education Instructor, Olivia Dove. Rotating members of the Sustainability Division staff members also joined throughout the week, including Maggie McCoy, Jill Maes, Kassie Knight, Kat Golden, and Anna McAtee.

The Alternative Spring Break program was tailored specifically towards conservation careers, so naturally, the OYC participants spent all week at Shaw Nature Reserve (SNR). During their time at SNR, participants shared experiences through four main pillars: service work, conservation careers, immersion into nature, and teamwork. 

Service Work 
The invasive species, bush honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is still very present at SNR. However, their dedicated ecological restoration crew continuously works to restore the ecosystems at SNR; and OYC helped aid those efforts! Each day of Alternative Spring Break engaged participants in service work by lopping, sawing, and pilling in preparation for herbicide treatment of the stumps and burning of the bushes. The crew was led by Ecological Restoration Technician, Maria Lommel, who helped teach the crew about the continued invasive species management efforts at SNR.  

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Photos Above: BEFORE



Photos Above: AFTER

Conservation Careers
OYC participants engaged in lunches with members of various departments of SNR to talk about conservation careers. Members of the Horticulture, Ecological Restoration, Education and Interpretation departments ate lunch with the OYC crew and shared a bit about their career path, the steps they took to find their position and SNR, and what a day in the life of their professional role may look like!



Photos above: Staff members from the Horticulture team of SNR speak to OYC participants 

Teamwork is an essential characteristic for OYC programs but enhanced during Alternative Spring Break. From day one, participants quickly bonded with one another and took that camaraderie to our service site, exemplifying good communication, safety and situational awareness in the field. This teamwork was also revealed in their ability to play a game of Uno before lunch and playing frisbee after lunch.  

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Nature Immersion
Each day as the participants worked to hack invasive species, they were able to observe and wonder at something new at SNR. Whether it was the daffodils sprinkled through the woods, or the cypress “knees” abundantly visible near the bald cypress grove, the OYC participants unleashed their creativity and questions at each neat feature of the nature surrounding them. The best part of the whole week was the group hike participants who ventured along on our last day of Alternative Spring Break. With the help of Maria Lommel, OYC participants learned the names of spring ephemerals such as rue anemone, trout lilies, and spring beauties. As the participants ventured along the Bluff Overlook and Wildflower trails, they had the opportunity to “ohh” and “ahh” at additional features of SNR including a large sycamore near the gravel bar of the Meramec River. Participants learned how to skip rocks and even yodel on the hike with Maria’s expertise. By the end of the week participants returned with many new experiences with the outdoors.  

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Every day, the drive back from SNR became quiet as some participants snoozed in the van from their hard days' work of service and learning, but the participants’ spirit and appreciation for nature was awake. Whether it was something new they saw on the hike, a friend they made within the crew, or an interest in a career, each participant took home something from the week. “Some participants had never been on a hike before, others had cut honeysuckle at SNR multiple times before,” commented Instructor Olivia Dove, “I think the biggest takeaway I received from the week is that no matter our experiences or backgrounds we are capable of accomplishing great things and building strong relationships with others if we are able to work together for a greater cause.” The OYC staff look forward to the continued adventures of the Outdoor Youth Corps in the upcoming season. Visit the Outdoor Youth Corps website for information about the Summer Crew program, applications are open now! 


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