Youths learn conservation the hard way | AspenTimes.com

Youths learn conservation the hard way

Janet Urquhart

Nathan Rockafellow, left, and Wyatt Mohrman, working with the Aspen Youth Conservation Corps, prune weeds and shrubs Tuesday along an interpretive trail at the Holden/Marolt open space. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

A couple of local teens may have a new appreciation for conservation as they wrap up a summer of physical labor, compliments of the Aspen Parks Department.The duo, 17-year-old Wyatt Mohrman and 18-year-old Nathan Rockafellow, are the remaining crew members of the inaugural Aspen Youth Conservation Corps. Co-worker El Palmer has already returned to college and Jordan Bacheldor worked only briefly with the corps before he broke an ankle during a vacation and was forced to step down.Corps members made $8.50 an hour for eight weeks of work that concludes this week. The Parks Department applied the extra manpower to a long list of parks and open space projects.

“From my perspective as an open space manager, it’s so hard to get things done – even little things like controlling a thistle patch,” said Brian Flynn, the city’s special projects and open space manager.So Flynn put an ad in local papers last spring seeking applicants for the corps. He had four positions and four applicants, all of whom fit the bill for a job that included plenty of sweat and dirt, and occasional tedium.”These guys all said, ‘I’m not afraid to work, I just want to do something I’ve never done before,’ ” Flynn said.

“It was good work,” said Rockafellow, a graduate of Basalt High School who’s headed to Northern Arizona University this fall. “It was just something I thought would be good for me to do.”For Mohrman, who will be a senior at Aspen High School this fall, the job was his first taste of regular employment. The ad to work for the corps caught his eye.”It was good for the community and it was good to be outside instead of cooped up in an office all summer,” he said.

Tuesday found Rockafellow and Mohrman maintaining a trail at the Marolt Open Space, but trail work is just one of the many varied tasks the corps has tackled this summer. The youths have dug irrigation ditches, planted trees, pulled thistles, constructed a small bridge and canvassed town to distribute leaflets to homeowners about scale, an infestation of aspen and cottonwood trees. First, of course, they learned to identify scale so they knew which properties should receive the leaflet.At the James H. Smith Open Space, a joint city/county property east of town, the crew removed toadflax, a noxious weed, and spread a native seed mix. The lesson there, according to Flynn: “Once you have an establishment of native grasses, weeds have a harder time coming back.”The Parks Department budgeted $23,000 for this year’s corps; the sum covered wages, shirts and hats for the crew, and some materials, Flynn said. Next summer, the department may expand the corps to six members.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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