Chloe Lampert excavates an amphibian pond as part of her independent project for YES! Base Camp. (Judith Rubin/Northwest Watershed Institute)

Chloe Lampert excavates an amphibian pond as part of her independent project for YES! Base Camp. (Judith Rubin/Northwest Watershed Institute)

Students complete unique environmental program

Training developed for use during COVID-19 pandemic

PORT TOWNSEND — Sixteen high school students working under the state’s Phase 1 “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive have completed the Youth Environmental Stewards Base Camp, and they are ready to serve as restoration crew leaders for the Northwest Watershed Institute’s planting programs as soon as it is safe to do so.

Generally, the 10-month Youth Environmental Stewards (YES!) program begins with a rigorous outdoor, residential week-long science camp, said Jude Rubin, YES! Base Camp founder and coordinator for the Northwest Watershed Institute (NWI), in a press release.

Eugenia Frank and Viola Frank help restore the native plant nursery at the Tarboo Wildlife Preserve during a mini-work party. Not pictured are YES! participants Ben Tyler and Ava Vaughn. (Judith Rubin/Northwest Watershed Institute)

Eugenia Frank and Viola Frank help restore the native plant nursery at the Tarboo Wildlife Preserve during a mini-work party. Not pictured are YES! participants Ben Tyler and Ava Vaughn. (Judith Rubin/Northwest Watershed Institute)

During the program, students are introduced to careers in natural resource management and environmental issues by working shoulder-to-shoulder on field sites with professionals from 10 partner groups, Rubin said.

But this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, training was in participants’ own back yards.

NWI reshaped YES! into an eight-week nature program for teens’ outdoor studies called Youth Environmental Stewards (YES!) Base Camp.

Redesigned for social distancing, YES! Base Camp urged each participant to explore the fullest extent of their surroundings, whether along Chimacum Creek, near Dabob Bay or in the city limits of Port Townsend.

The students — from Port Townsend, Chimacum and Quilcene — completed the course on June 28 and received NWI YES! Crew Leader sweatshirts, gear and work gloves.

Next, they will be invited to help lead future restoration events.

Thanks to a grant from Washington’s No Child Left Inside Program, the program was offered for free.

“All of their normal activities — school, sports and other activities — were shut down, and NWI staff felt that being outside was one healthy thing teens could still do [during the Stay Home, Stay Safe period],” Rubin said.

“NWI took a chance and decided to try the experimental program in hopes of connecting teens more to their place, and in hopes they would feel less isolated during stay-at-home guidance.

“Our funders at RCO [state Recreation and Conservation Office] gave us the go-ahead to try the new program, and it turns out YES! Base Camp was called ‘the most proactive program, statewide,’ Rubin said.

“Both participants and their families were happy that they had something useful to do outside during the pandemic. Overall, YES! Base Camp was a very ironic use of videoconferencing technology, and a huge success.”

To build the program, Rubin solicited advice from former YES! participants — Callay Boire, Reece Kjeldgaard, Stella Jorgenson and Haley Moore.

“Without them, Base Camp wouldn’t have worked,” Rubin said. “They offered topics they wanted to study, helped us work around new online school schedules, and taught us to keep the Zoom calls interactive and lively.”

Teens began by mapping their “Home Base and Natural Range” and making agreements with their families about places and activities that were safe, Rubin said.

NWI provided bi-weekly interactive videoconference sessions with field experts who gave presentations about their areas of expertise and invited questions. Each guest ended with a challenge activity for teens to do on their own.

Weekly themes including wildlife tracking, plant identification, conservation and restoration, growing local food, traditional skills, birds, pollinators, outdoor readiness and trip planning, and honing outdoor and natural observation skills.

In the final two weeks of YES! Base Camp, teens completed independent projects designed to either help the natural world and/or learn new outdoor skills, Rubin said. Among the projects were pollinator gardens, an amphibian pond, shoreline restoration, invasive plant removal and beach cleanup.

Participants, who spent an average of 80 hours outdoors during the course of the two-month program, were Antonio Rioseco, Ava Vaughn, Ben Martin, Chloe Lampert, Viola Frank, Eugenia Frank, Tusker Berhrenfeld, Akelya Behrenfeld, Madrona Eickmeyer, Emily Kilgore, Grace Wenzel, Hugh Wenzel, Haley Moore, Reece Kjeldgaard, Stella Jorgensen and Zia Plumb Magill.

The group never met in person. Phase 2 rules prohibit them from gathering.

NWI has started supporting “teen-led mini-work parties” — five-person events to help teens practice what they have learned, and step in to leadership roles on coastal clean-ups and projects at NWI’s Tarboo Wildlife Preserve.

For isntance, a beach cleanup is planned at Tarboo Bay this month.

NWI is seeking funding to continue offering training and opportunities for teens during the pandemic.

For more information on NWI, see www.nwwatershed.org.

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