Teens get acquainted with nature in intern program

Generation Green assistant crew leader Hillary Santana, right, and Forest Service employees Alice Croisant and Blake Taylor hike a trail in search of the elusive goshawk.  Jim Grant / Nevada Appeal News Service

Generation Green assistant crew leader Hillary Santana, right, and Forest Service employees Alice Croisant and Blake Taylor hike a trail in search of the elusive goshawk. Jim Grant / Nevada Appeal News Service

Before a group of South Shore teens started their Generation Green Lake Tahoe internship this summer, six out of seven of them never had hiked on a trail before.

Cesar Ortega, 18, said that before he started the internship, he hardly knew anything about what Lake Tahoe had to offer outside the South Shore.

"We didn't pay attention to all the things around us before," said 16-year-old Bianca Regalado, another intern.

Now, the teens have outdoor knowledge and are excited to go to work every day because of Generation Green.

Generation Green provides environmental education and leadership opportunities through the U.S. Forest Service for youths who don't have many opportunities. The program gives teens a chance to check out different professions, and some of the South Shore participants now are interested in Forest Service careers because of their hands-on experience.

Generation Green Lake Tahoe has been in the works for a while. Jim Oftedal, program director of the Central California Consortium, presented Generation Green at the last Youth Task Force meeting in late May.

The Youth Task Force, made up of officials from area schools and community organizations, began in January 2007 after an escalation of violence in schools sparked by possible gang activity. Generation Green is one of many programs the group is working on to help the youths before problems develop.

Joy Barney, Forest Service conservation education program specialist, said this program is funded through the Forest Service and the El Dorado County Investment Act, which helps youths with low-income households and other challenges. The teens were hired based on this criteria as well as their abilities. Barney had worked with Oftedal before and wanted to bring the program to Lake Tahoe.

Out of 26 applicants, seven teens were hired for the Generation Green Lake Tahoe internship, said Adrian Escobedo, Generation Green crew on-site supervisor. The program lasts from June 30 to Aug. 15.

Barney said when she asks a classroom of 25 students if they've been hiking at Lake Tahoe, about five students usually raise their hands.

"A lot of kids today are growing up without the woods," Barney said.

The average child spends 61Ú2 hours with electronic media and only 30 hours per week of unstructured outdoor activity, Barney said.

Before beginning their summer internships, all the teens took the "Fundamentals of Outdoor Leadership" course with Rosie Hackett at Lake Tahoe Community College.

Barney said the interns, who weren't comfortable with the outdoors before taking the course, were sleeping under the stars by the end.

Besides learning survival skills, the class worked on different aspects of leadership, Santana said. Some people in the group needed to learn to speak up, while others, like Santana, learned to turn leadership over to others.

"Everyone in the group has something to contribute to whatever we are working on for the day," Santana said.

And the whole group bonded during the course.

"Within a day, we became so tight," Santana said.

Santana said that every week, they are learning about different professions in the Forest Service, such as recreation, engineering and public affairs.

Last week, a few teens each went with a Forest Service biological science technician to count goshawks in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Santana was in charge of the kakker - a device that simulates bird calls.

Santana was instructed to point the device in six different locations for 10 seconds, then to listen for 30 seconds to see if any goshawks responded.

"The idea is we're listening for a response, and if they don't respond in 30 seconds, they're probably not going to," said Blake Taylor, a Forest Service biological science technician.

Taylor said they work in pairs so they have two sets of eyes to observe. Goshawks are quiet, so if they don't call back, it's hard to hear them flying and hard to see them, because they live in densely wooded areas, Taylor said.

Even though the work days start early - sometimes at 6 a.m. for goshawk counts - no one in the group complains.

"I love waking up, because I'm going to work with my co-workers, who are great people," Ortega said.

Regalado agreed. "Nothing's a problem if you love what you do," she said.

All the interns are required to keep journals while they are in the program, and Escobedo is in charge of grading them.

It helps them absorb what they've done, and this way they always can go back and remember what they've accomplished, Regalado said.

The program also includes parent involvement and leadership presentations, Barney said. Oftedal will work with the teens at the end of their internship so they can prepare presentations. That's also a way they can give back to the community, Barney said.

Oftedal will help continue Generation Green into the school year by having an ecology club or some sort of mini-course to provide year-round exposure for the program, Barney said.

Santana said she thinks Generation Green Lake Tahoe is the perfect way to spend her summer before heading off to Swarthmore College in the fall.

"It's my last big dose of Tahoe life," she said.

Now that the youths have been bitten by the Forest Service bug, one of the younger teens, Regalado, said she wants to continue with the program next summer.

Barney said the goal is to continue the program and hopefully gain more funds so more youths can participate.

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