A group of teenagers is struggling to line up a post in a hole just perfectly.
These teens are building a fence in a parking lot for visitors to Ranch Sierra Vista, a ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation area just southwest of Thousand Oaks.
The 22 teens from Ventura and Los Angeles Counties have passed up on eight weeks of summer vacation to sweat in the sun. They’re participants in the National Park Service’s SAMO Program.
It gives them a chance to sample working with nature, with paid jobs in which they do everything from maintain trails to participate in scientific research. Maggie Moran just graduated from Hueneme High School, and is planning to go to UC Santa Barbara to study chemistry. The 18 year old says working for the Park Service has been an eye opener.
The teens work on real projects, many of which wouldn’t get done without their labor, like building fences, or clearing potentially hazardous brush buildup. While some of what they are doing, like building a fence or clearing brush might not seem exciting, the teens are also getting some unique experiences during the eight week program.
They spend a week working in the Channel Islands. For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever gone camping.
Joey Algiers, a biological technician with the National Park Service, says the hope is that not only will this be an educational experience for the teens, it might actually prompt some of them to consider careers related to the environment.
The small size of the group allows National Park Service staff to provide some one on one mentoring for the teens. Algiers says the teens love the experience.
A study of teens who’ve gone through the SAMO youth program since it started in 2000 shows 95% of them went to college after participating, and gradates of the effort have gone on to work at 15 national park units across the country.
The National Park Service program is made possible by support from two groups, the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, and the National Park Foundation.