EL MAPAIS - In this day and age where technology is a major part of our everyday life, it is hard for me to imagine being away from my Smartphone for an entire day, yet alone several weeks. Now imagine taking away the air conditioning during the heat of summer and the comforts and amenities of home, and combine that with heavy lifting and manual labor, and you might know what it is like to be working as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew member in the El Malpais National Conservation Area for a day.
The SCA provides college and high school-aged members with hands-on conservation service opportunities in virtually every field imaginable. The mission statement of the SCA is to build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong stewardship of our environment and communities by engaging young people in hands-on service to the land. Students range from 15-19 years of age and serve on a crew for 3-5 weeks during the summer. They are supervised by 2 crew leaders and live in tents and cook their own meals.
This summer the Bureau of Land Management, El Malpais National Conservation Area is hosting a high school SCA crew of five members and their leaders. The crew will be out working on the Cebolla Canyon area, just south of Grants. Their main work has been building check dams, which is no easy task. Huge piles of rock were delivered before their arrival and the crew is tasked with getting the rock from the top of the arroyo, to the bottom of the arroyo and then building dams with the rocks. The dams are designed to slow down storm runoff. This allows sediment to settle out of the water and build up the creek channel in an attempt to reverse the effects of erosion. In the four weeks that the group will spend in El Malpais, they will have built several dams and accomplished trail work and road rehab all within the NCA.
For many of the youth this experience is a lot of firsts in their lives: their first time out to the Southwest, their first time camping, and their first time away from the comforts of home.
Justin, one of the crew leaders, said it is fun watching the kids grow up. “Whether they know it or not, they are growing up out here. Some of them are cooking their first meals, dealing with Laundromats for the first time. Dealing with things you normally figure out while you are in college, only these guys are getting a jump start on those life skills.”
Kate, who is from Florida and doing her first stint as an SCA crew member, says something she has learned through this experience is, “Once you come out and do this hard work and visit these beautiful places, you can never go back and just sit on the couch for a summer. It makes you want to continue exploring and learning about the outdoors.”
Maggie, a South Carolina native, and also a first time SCA crew member, added that one important part of this program is it makes you aware of how to survive and camp in the outdoors, you learn about Leave No Trace and how to respect the land and you can bring all that back home with you.
When asked about why they would want to volunteer their summer break to do manual labor they all had a very similar answer: It is fun hard work that is very rewarding. They also all mentioned how the SCA program was a good way for them to give back to the environment, meet new people from all over the country and travel to different areas that they’ve never been to before.
Shawn, who is doing his second summer as an SCA crew member calls the opportunity, “a chance of a lifetime.”
For more information about the SCA program or how you can be get involved you can visit, www.thesca.org.
This is the second summer the BLM has hosted an SCA work crew on the El Malpais NCA. Last year’s work crew was such a success that this year they will be having two SCA crews out in the area.
“We appreciate their amazing work ethic, and we would never be able to get this kind of work done without their dedication to conservation,” says BLM’s Supervisory Park Ranger, Ken Jones.