Teens practice environmental stewardship in Tacoma parks


Metro Parks Tacoma, Mount Rainier National Park and the nonprofit Northwest Youth Corps are again jointly sponsoring Sound to Summit (S2S), a work experience project modeled after the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

Twenty Tacoma-area 16- to 18-year-olds were recruited for two, five-week programs, which kicked off in Tacoma on June 18. The crews are spending the first four weeks in and around sites managed by Metro Parks Tacoma. The final week takes place at Mount Rainier National Park. Participants engage in conservation projects at both locations.

“We at Metro Parks are happy last year’s pilot program proved to be so successful that S2S is back,” said Andrea Smith, president of the Metro Parks Board of Commissioners. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for young people to explore the potential of environmental stewardship.”

In addition to conservation stewardship experiences, Sound to Summit participants enjoy a week of camping and recreation in the national park, plus a final graduation ceremony there. Teens who complete S2S earn a $1,250 educational stipend from Northwest Youth Corps and the potential to earn high school academic credit. This is the second year of the summer program, which was successfully piloted last year.

On weekdays, teens work on conservation projects for about six hours, and devote at least an hour each day to learning about their surrounding environment. While practicing effective environmental stewardship techniques, participants problem-solve, pick up leadership skills and learn the value of teamwork. The goal is to help the teens develop work ethics and job skills useful in later life.

Tracy Swartout, Mount Rainier National Park’s deputy superintendent, said park officials are pleased to partner with Metro Parks and Northwest Youth Corps on S2S because it provides valuable skills development and work experience for young people.

“This program comes as we begin the National Park Service’s second century of service and seek to connect new audiences to National Parks and other protected places around the United States. There’s no better way to connect with a National Park or Metro Parks than to have served as a steward of the resource yourself,” she said.

“We hope that this program provides participants with the basis for a lifelong connection to our nation’s systems of parks, whether local or national. It is in service to our parks and protected spaces that we build stewardship for their future.”

The Northwest Youth Corps (NYC), an Oregon-based nonprofit, is spearheading Sound to Summit. Established in 1984, NYC has a long track record of successful conservation-based job readiness programs for teens and young adults, and serves more than 1,000 teens and young adults annually in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.

Until 2017, all of those programs occurred wholly in either national forest or national park settings, or in urban areas. When started in 2017, Sound to Summit was the first that combines urban and rural experiences.

“We want to get young people living in urban areas (now over 80% of the US population) excited about serving and learning in their own communities, and then exploring more remote wild places.” said Jay Satz, NW Youth Corps senior director for partnership and innovation. “We are excited to run this program in Tacoma to provide opportunities for Pierce County teens to gain work skills while serving in two different and unique park systems, and to also learn about the connections between them”.

In Tacoma, the S2S teens are working thoughout the city at sites including Swan Creek, Point Defiance, Wapato, Kandle, Franklin, and Dickman Mill parks, plus People’s Community Center and Tacoma Nature Center. They are removing invasive plants, weeding, mulching, pruning, chipping, maintaining trails and sprucing up landscape beds.

Northwest Youth Corps staff recruited a diverse group of Tacoma-area teens, including young people from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “Our guess is the majority of these kids have seen Mount Rainier out their window, but have never thought about how to get there,” Satz said. “One goal of Sound to Summit is to broaden those horizons.”

Financial support for Sound to Summit is provided by Metro Parks, Mount Rainier National Park, the Dawkins Charitable Trust and Northwest Youth Corps.

Teens who would like to join Sound to Summit may apply at the Northwest Youth Corps website. For more information, please call the recruitment team at (541) 349-5055.

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