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Over the river and through the woods, to protect our public lands we go!

Amanda Elliott, YouthWork AmeriCorps Director

by Amanda Elliott, YouthWork Americorps Director

YouthWork has been getting things done for Michigan’s public lands and waterways. In March, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to have a summer season. Now, demand for YouthWork is higher than ever and our summer schedule is full! For the first time ever, we have a growing waitlist of project requests and are scheduling projects into Summer 2021. 

Operating with smaller crew sizes and strict new safety protocols, eight YouthWork crews around the state are expected to complete conservation projects for nearly 75 public and nonprofit partners this summer, including serving in three of our national parks and two of our national forests. We expect to put 40-50 AmeriCorps members through our program this summer and fall.

Just since May 2020, when YouthWork resumed operations after a temporary closure due to COVID-19, YouthWork AmeriCorps members and their crew leaders have completed projects for more than 15 partners including:

  • The Grand Traverse Conservation District – crews planted 1,200 trees along the Boardman River at the Natural Education Reserve and trail development and maintenance projects at Brown Bridge Quiet Area.

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – crews participated in overnight spike camps on the national lakeshore where members average 12 miles of hiking per day though rough terrain hauling heavy lumber (60 pounds of lumber each trip and up to six trips per day for each member) to extremely remote locations to build and repair boardwalks and conduct trail maintenance and development activities (partially supported by the National Park Foundation).

  • Traverse City Parks and Recreation Department – crews planted 1,200 trees at Hickory Hills and completed trail maintenance and development activities at Hannah Park Trail.

  • Leelanau County and Bingham Township – crews removed invasive species (autumn olive and garlic mustard) from Veronica Valley Park and restored and preserved historic structures at Boughey Park on M-22.

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – members served alongside national park rangers on several projects including debris removal, boardwalk repair, beach cleanup, and accessibility improvements at D.H. Day Campground, maintenance and improvements at the dune climb, clearing debris and fallen trees from Good Harbor Beach, and restoring and preserving historic structures throughout Port Oneida Historic District (partially supported by the National Park Foundation).

  • And much much more! These and other YouthWork projects have contributed to the planting of nearly 27,000 native plants and trees, the improvement of more than 250 acres of public land, 12 miles of streams and rivers, and 45 miles of public trails this fiscal year. Way to go team!

During National Forest Week, it seems appropriate to highlight service activities being completed in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. We are extremely grateful for a grant received from the National Forest Foundation that is supporting eight weeks of projects in this national forest. YouthWork members will serve alongside national forest rangers and other professionals in the field to: help remove overgrown woody vegetation; manually/chemically treat undesirable vegetation and invasive species that are affecting forest health; plant grasses and wildflowers on open lands; plant native shrubs along the edges of previously cut aspen stands; and complete trail maintenance on two non-motorized trail systems.

The crew will spend their summer completing these projects with the US Forest Service. “Serving with the Forest Service teaches you about a ton of things and you get to do it hands on. You really feel accomplished when you finish a plot with your crew and get sent onto the next one,” says Destany, 19, who is serving her second term with YouthWork this summer. 

Sebastian, 18, also in his second term, agrees. “I love serving with the forest service. It’s a great experience and they are great people.”

At the end of the eight weeks, YouthWork members will have restored conditions on at least 24 acres of openlands, removed undesirable vegetation/invasive species on at least 76 acres of forestland, hand seeded at least eight acres of land, planted about 150 native plants and trees, and improved at least 4 miles of trail. We can’t wait to see the results!

We love our forests! Next week, crews will begin serving in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Each crew will spike camp for 5-10 days at a time in the national forest for eight weeks and will reroute and repair existing trails and construct new trails that will be available for public use.

Follow @youthwork_industries on social media to see YouthWork in action and see what we’re getting done in YOUR community! Visit to learn more, refer a youth to the program, hire YouthWork for a project, or invest in our program.

And I’ll leave you with a joke - Why did the squirrel get lost in the forest? It took the wrong root.

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