TUPELO, MS: The Natchez Trace Parkway has hosted the Southeast and Southwest Conservation Corps (Corps) for the last four weeks as they served the Parkway and local community. Inspired by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel has encouraged all national parks to put America’s youth and returning veterans to work protecting and restoring our public lands.
“The preservation of America’s parks starts with investing in our youth and encouraging them to explore the outdoors and the lands that they will be responsible for in the future,” stated Superintendent Mary Risser. “The Conservation Corps provide those opportunities for young adults between 18 and 25 years of age.”
Both the Southeast and Southwest Conservation Corps spent four weeks working on the Beech Springs Outdoor Classroom and a bike-only campground across from the Parkway Visitor Center at milepost 266 in Tupelo, MS. They rehabilitated three pavilions at the site. These pavilions provide outdoor classroom space for special ranger-led programs; the bike-only campground accommodates tents for bicyclists and scout groups to enjoy overnight experiences.
“I feel this heavy burden to save the world and pressure to do something meaningful. It’s up to [our generation] to focus on conservation as one of the most important works we can do to give back to the planet so we can live,” Corps student Claire Dowmesamy exclaimed. “I cannot believe I am getting paid to do something I love doing, which is working outside.”
The two Corps groups also worked on other service projects, such as maintaining trails and placing signs on recycling bins. Like many young individuals, they found time to play during their stay, but their enjoyment comes through the outdoors rather than technology or social media. The crews explored the Parkway and learned about butterfly habitat restoration, nonnative plants, and the history of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Corps member Rob Goodman explains, “Without being exposed to nature, you will never find the proper balance in life or appreciate the access to basic necessities we take for granted each day.”
“The Corps groups have helped to provide local students and Parkway visitors with opportunities to connect to their surrounding environment and find their park,” Risser said. “The National Park Service turns 100 in 2016. All of the Corps’ projects have helped us prepare for the celebration, and we encourage everyone to come out and explore your national park in your own backyard.