When the call to join the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps was sent out last year, hundreds of teens across the nation answered.
With limited slots available, 17-year-old Owen Ruggeri, of Hailey, was one of the lucky few from Idaho who spent a month at Yellowstone National Park living in a tent, working on trails, repairing structures, building log guardrails and doing conservation work — all for minimum wage.
“It was amazing,” Ruggeri said. “I’m so glad I did it. I learned a lot about myself and my abilities both physically from the kind of manual labor we were doing and also knowing I had the social skills I needed that I could use in any workplace.”
The park announced this week that it is accepting applications for its monthlong Youth Conservation Corps program this summer for ages 15 to 18. The program requires no experience, just “a willingness and ability to work in a physically active outdoor program, get along well with others, and maintain a positive attitude.”
Ruggeri, now a senior at Wood River High School, said it was an adjustment for him, but an even bigger challenge for kids coming from urban areas around the country.
“This kind of nature was very much foreign to them when they arrived,” he said. “On arrival our phones were taken away. There was that lack of communication, for a lot of kids it was hard. … Personally that was my first time being away from home. I only called my folks once or twice throughout the whole time.”
Ruggeri said most participants adjusted to and enjoyed being unplugged.
Two monthlong corps sessions will be offered, from June 9 to July 10 and July 14 to Aug. 14. Sixty teenagers will be randomly selected from across the country. Teen enrollees must be U.S. citizens. Participants live in park facilities. Room and board is provided at a minimal cost.
“Honestly one of the biggest takeaways is the cumulative experience. It’s a beautiful park,” Ruggeri said. “A lot of (participants) came from a big city and have barely stepped outside in real nature. It’s something that inspired a lot of people and made them passionate about nature.”
The program is funded by park entrance fees and donations to Yellowstone Forever.
To learn more and to apply, go to www.nps.gov/yell/learn/management/yccjobs.htm.