On Friday, August 11, the five members of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program will wrap up a busy summer season making the Outer Banks a more attractive place to visit, alongside personnel from the National Park Service.
The YCC is a unique summer job that’s offered at scenic parks and destinations all over the country, and the program returned to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) in 2023 after a five-year hiatus.
“It’s a federal program that allows us to hire youth for employment during the summer, and they are mainly involved with smaller maintenance projects,” said Scott Babinowich, Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services, for CHNS. “This is the first time we had this program since 2018, due to COVID and staffing turnover, and it just took us a little while to get it started again.”
Per its formal definition, the YCC is a youth employment program that engages young people in meaningful work experiences at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and fish hatcheries while developing an ethic of environmental stewardship and civic responsibility. YCC programs are generally 8 to 10 weeks, and members are paid at least the state or federal minimum wage, (whichever is higher.)
On a local level, the recruitment for the CHNS program began in the spring of 2023, with the Cape Hatteras Secondary School (CHSS) serving as a launching point for finding students who wanted to apply.
“The principal and the teachers were instrumental in getting the word out,” said Babinowich. “The teachers knew kids and parents that would be a great fit, and there was a lot of interest this year.”
The five members of the 2023 team were Chris Meyers, Jack Revere, Hunter Ferguson, Amber Brockelman, and Andrea Brockelman, and the team included three local CHSS students and two students with ties to the area through NPS volunteers. While up to eight students can generally be enlisted for the program every year, the participation in 2023’s program was both encouraging and appreciated.
“We were very happy with the turnout that we had in the first year,” said Babinowich. “And there was a lot of interest… many [students] just had other commitments during the summer months.”
The eight-week program is truly a full-time endeavor. Students work 40 hours per week, and every workday starts at 7:00 a.m. sharp.
The work itself can be labor intensive as well, concentrating on projects that need to be completed at various sites within CHNS, but the students also have time to learn more about what employment in the National Park Service system entails.
“They work alongside our maintenance crew, so maintenance folks can act as a mentor, and can familiarize them with federal employment and what it’s like to work at the National Park Service,” said Babinowich. “There’s definitely a lot of focus on manual labor, but they tour with staff at different parts of the park, so it’s also an orientation for working with the Seashore as well.”
And in the past eight weeks, the 2023 crew of the YCC has certainly accomplished a lot.
They assisted with the painting and repairing of the fence at the U.S. Weather Bureau Station in Hatteras Village – just in time for the installation of the new weather tower. They also did a lot of work at CHNS campgrounds, rebuilding boardwalks and sprucing up sites, and they also orchestrated projects at local beach accesses, such as building picnic tables at popular day-use areas.
“It’s a relatively short [eight-week] duration because we align with the school summer break, but they accomplished a lot this year,” said Babinowich.
And with the 2023 summer program coming to an end, and a host of new additions and improvements sprinkled throughout the National Seashore as a result, everyone involved hopes the success of this season will spark interest in the years to come.
“We’ll continue this program in [future years], and we may rotate the districts to provide opportunities for students up the beach as well,” said Babinowich. “As we build the program back, we’re hopeful that we’ll attract some more folks in the coming year, and look forward to great success.”