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Nantahala National Forest trails benefit from partner-supported student program

Franklin, NC, September 20, 2021 — The U.S. Forest Service, in partnership with the Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy, Southeast Conservation Corps and Macon County Schools, announces the successful completion of the first Youth Conservation Corps summer program. Three students from Macon County, one student from Swain County and two out-of-state students graduated from the four-week program where they performed trail maintenance along 9 miles of the Bartram Trail in North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.

“We couldn’t be happier with the work these students accomplished in our first season of this partnership,” said District Ranger Troy Waskey. “The Youth Conservation Corps has provided students with career skills and knowledge on National Forests, trail building, teamwork and much more all while giving back to public lands in our community.”

With guidance from two crew leaders from Southeast Conservation Corps, the six students spent three weeks working from Sawmill Gap to Cheoah Bald and one week between Tessentee Camp and Jones Gap. The crew focused their efforts on tread repair and clearing hazards from the trail but also assisted with a bridge replacement at Ledbetter Creek.

“This work has meant a lot to me,” said Tara Henderson, crew member. “It’s difficult but cool to look back on what we’ve done. Hikers have walked by us a couple times and have been extremely grateful. We obviously don’t do it for the thanks but it’s nice to see that if affects them positively.”

In addition to sponsorship from Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy and Southeast Conservation Corps, Macon County Schools Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program promoted the Youth Conservation Corps to encourage student interest in outdoor education.

“The Macon STEM program appreciated the flexibility of the partnership in that a professional was able to join the crew once a week to talk about their career path,” said Jennifer Love, Macon County Schools STEM Coordinator and Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy Board Chair. “Firefighters, researchers, naturalists and entrepreneurs all visited our students during their summer program. Whether our students decide to pursue a career in natural resources or not, this experience has helped clarify the direction they might want to take.”

The Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy is currently raising funds for two North Carolina crews and one Georgia crew to take part in the program next summer with an overall goal to inspire a new and diverse generation of trail maintainers, board members and volunteers. Applications for the four-week summer program are typically released in March at https://southeastconservationcorps.org/.

Love says they are currently recruiting students to participate next summer through Macon Youth Trail Corps workdays. This event consists of four workdays where Macon County student volunteers can get out on the trail and see if they enjoy the work. Interested students can register here.

The Bartram Trail was established shortly after the Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy was originally formed in 1977. After reaching an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, the conservancy began building the 114-mile trail which stretches from northern Georgia to Cheoah Bald in North Carolina.

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