Between June and August, high school students may go to summer camp in the north woods, basketball camp at a community college, swimming lessons, suffer through drivers' ed and others may hunt down the local fast food joints who are accepting applications. This summer, I'll be working with ten brave 15 to 18-year-olds who opted not to pursue this standard summer fare
. Instead we will be crushing rock, debarking logs and hopefully safely swinging tools and lopping branches in two Milwaukee County Parks.
Fifty years ago, the Student Conservation Association
(SCA) began employing young people to take care of the United States' National Parks. Since then, the non-profit has worked with government and private organizations across the country, providing youth with green job experience such as constructing new trails, building trench and drainage systems to divert disruptive water patterns, and turning brown spaces into beautiful street-corner parks or community gardens.
Major metropolises, with vast concrete deserts that generate heat islands and rusty industrial districts lined with empty warehouses, are benefiting from the SCA's mission to employ young people to care for parks and green spaces. Beyond the paycheck, this summer job is an opportunity to learn about the environment in an urban setting. My goal for the summer is to jam as much eco-love into 10 teenage brains as possible, and, of course, to have fun. A personal mission is to learn about new parks and neighborhoods in the city.
Each park is unique: its shape, its size, its function (is there a pool?), its users (dogs and dog walkers?) and its history (who built it and why?). I had hoped to form a friendship with a new patch of city-grass and meet the locals who benefit from its flowers and shade. Instead, I will be working barely a mile from my house, in my own neighborhood! We are placed in one of the largest city parks, where I've spent many afternoons at the par-three golf course and running the trails for cross country practice. But my aim is to instill some compassion for these and all natural areas, so I launched a mini research project about my park.
This is what I learned:
1) Frederick Law Olmstead, architect of New York City's Central Park, designed this park in the 1890s.
An erstwhile waterfall
, constructed by the Works Progress Administration as part of the New Deal stimulus program in the 1940s, was recently discovered and renovated. The grand opening celebration was last weekend.
According to local media
, controversy has arisen around necessary park maintenance and how to fund such projects.
From points one and two, I gather that this park is marked with historical milestones and that further research must follow. From point three, it seems that the SCA's privately funded work comes at a pertinent time of restoration and rebuilding. I can't wait to meet my crew members and learn more about Milwaukee's green spaces!