Generation Green Helps Teenagers Trade Ice Cream Scoopers For Shovels And Saws

  • By Mackenzie Myers, Mountain Democrat Reporter, and Jennifer Chapman, Public Affairs Officer, Eldorado National Forest
Teenagers learn about forest management, how to saw logs, plants trees, clear trash, maintain trails. Teenagers learn about forest management, how to saw logs, plants trees, clear trash, maintain trails. Teenagers learn about forest management, how to saw logs, plants trees, clear trash, maintain trails. Teenagers learn about forest management, how to saw logs, plants trees, clear trash, maintain trails. Teenagers learn about forest management, how to saw logs, plants trees, clear trash, maintain trails.
Students tend to saplings at the Placerville Nursery. (Courtesy photo by Audrey Evans)

Students tend to saplings at the Placerville Nursery. (Courtesy photo by Audrey Evans)

“It’s an awesome program,” said Union Mine junior Hector Bergman. “I’d recommend it to anyone who likes the outdoors … but you’ve got to have a little bit of love for the outside.”

Bergman was one of several high schoolers from El Dorado County who spent the 2018 summer backpacking through the Eldorado National Forest fixing trails and cutting brush as part of the USDA Forest Service’s Generation Green program.

The Generation Green program of the Eldorado National Forest is a Conservation Education program that includes summer employment and year-round involvement with the students in high school clubs. This program has grown from nine students in 2015 to 21 students employed in 2018. One of the goals of the program is to outreach to students who are not traditionally connected to the forest, including low- income and culturally diverse students. Students in the club have opportunities to volunteer for the Forest Service and community events throughout the school year. Through a strong connection to the students, Conservation Education staff mentor future land stewards.

The crews this year have been very busy and productive in the forest. They cleaned up the Wrights Lake campground, painted picnic tables, and cleared campfire rings in preparation for the busy summer season.

Oak Ridge High School junior Kelsey Leet said crews were out in the field every day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for about eight weeks. Groups spent part of their time backpacking and other parts car camping, said Union Mine High School senior Brenden Campbell.

They spent countless hours preforming trail maintenance in Desolation and Mokelumne Wilderness areas, as well as on the Pony Express National Historic Trail, where El Dorado High School senior Brenda Patino said the trail was overgrown and barely visible before they got started. After her crew completed clearing, two hikers passing through thanked the students for their hard work. The crews then worked at the Placerville Nursery, spending time weeding out in the fields and greenhouses. They also were able to help with transplanting many of the different species of saplings.

Patino was an assistant crew lead this year and said her leadership role taught her to mediate tension between people with different viewpoints. She was also responsible for making sure the crew had enough supplies and food.

“I learned about keeping things professional and making sure the project of the day was still going to be completed,” Patino said. “Overall, it was a great experience. I got to work outdoors and see amazing views I wouldn’t have seen on my own time.” 

The crews constructed man-made beaver dam analogs with a Forest Service soil scientist, which is a structure designed to mimic the form and function of a natural beaver dam, and learned how these analogs are a simple, cost-effective, non-intrusive approach to stream restoration. The students used cuttings from nearby willow to use as material to weave together the dams.

For their work, the high school students were paid minimum wage while assistant crew leads like Patino were paid $12.65 an hour, she said. Many of the teenagers apply to return for another year, however, the job openings are competitive and the program rotates openings to give others a chance to experience what a Forest Service employee might do for a living.

Bergman hopes to head into a firefighting career and heard about Generation Green through both his mother and the career center at his school. As far as which lessons he hopes to carry with him, Bergman said he learned how important it is to keep his mood in check, since one person’s emotions can affect those of the entire group.

“I know more about being professional, and that you’ve got to keep going and working hard,” Bergman said. “As long as I’m working hard … I can look back on my work and be proud of what I’m doing, see I made a difference.”

Obviously not all the participants are ready to lock in their career paths as stewards of the land but the experience and opportunity was appreciated as was the work and guidance provided by program coordinator Audrey Evans, and an appreciation for the little things.

“After the backpacking trip, I appreciate my family more. Clean water, food, air conditioning,” Bergman said.

For Mackenzie Myers’ original article, Students take to the woods for summer break in the Mountain Democrat please visit

www.mtdemocrat.com/news/students-take-to-the-woods-for-summer-break