Teens work for conservation with Great Basin Naturalists

Great Basin Naturalists get educated in dirt, sweat and conservation

Great Basin Naturalists work on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Great Basin Naturalists work on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Photo By Nick Higman

For more information, visit Great Basin Naturalists, www.gbnaturalists.org, 324-0993; or Great Basin Institute at www.thegreatbasininstitute.org, 784-1192.

Alex Soliz is working alongside his crew on a hot, sunny trail two miles above Tahoe City, sweat and dirt embellishing his helmet and Carharts, heavy equipment in hand. The 17-year old Reno High School student is part of Great Basin Naturalists, a new program from the Great Basin Institute (GBI).

“The nine-hour days are tough, but now I’m used to it,” says a smiling Soliz. He signed up for the program when Kyle Chandler-Isacksen, youth program coordinator for GBI, came to his school and asked the students what they were doing this summer.

“I wanted to come up to Lake Tahoe and learn conservation techniques,” says Soliz, who grew up in Reno but never visited the lake much. “It’s beautiful here. We get to camp and go to the beach. It’s really good exercise, and I eat better here than I do at home.”

The new program offers high school students a unique opportunity to work outside during the summer and learn about the environment at the same time. Spots on the Great Basin Naturalists Conservation Teams are made up of qualified 17- and 18-year-olds who are interested in conservation and prepared to work nearly full-time for nine weeks straight during summer break.

“It’s similar to Nevada Conservation Corps, but the participants are younger, and they spend more time on education and enrichment,” explains Chandler-Isacksen. “We have speakers from Fleischmann Planetarium, the Nature Conservancy and the BLM. The kids visit different sites and learn about their environment and getting involved. We’re developing the next generation of conservationists.”

This summer, the 12 members and four crew leaders of the Lake Tahoe Conservation Crews are working to re-route a section of the Tahoe Rim Trail. The new corridor will steer hikers and others away from ecologically sensitive areas in the forest.

The group camps at Goose Meadows near Squaw Valley, and participants share responsibilities for keeping things organized. Crew leaders buy the groceries while kitchen managers designate the menu, create shopping lists and establish cooking schedules.

Crews work Monday through Thursday cutting corridor for the new section of trail. They remove trees and shrubs, move rocks out of the way, and clear the path of branches and duff (organic matter). It’s hard work, but rewarding, too.

“The best part of this job is getting to work with motivated people toward the ultimate goal of conservation,” says 23-year old crew leader Beth Haleol from St. Louis.

Onsite operations are managed by Roland Lieberman, trail crew coordinator for the GBI, who organizes work crews, assigns tasks and monitors progress. “It’s great experience for the teens,” he says. “After they complete the program, they can apply to be crew leaders for next year. They can get a promotion.”

Not only that, but they also get paid. Thanks to a partnership with Americorps and a contract with the U.S. Forest Service, participants receive a living allowance every two weeks and a $1,000 educational award when they finish the program. Add that to the skills they learn and the camaraderie they enjoy, and teens on the Conservation Teams have a pretty good summer gig.