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Teens get hands-on lessons on nature

Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. — Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.

July 17--Six teens from Bloomington have spent the past two weeks clearing brush, laying gravel, pounding posts to redirect trails and pulling invasive plants in the Hoosier National Forest as part of a youth conservation team sent to the forest through the Ohio River Foundation.

"We've done a lot of different things," said Jamie Lankenau, crew leader for the team. "It's been a lot of trail work, but we've helped in other ways."

The crew of high school students and high school graduates entering college also cleared rocks and cleaned up the beach area at Hardin Ridge Recreation Area at Lake Monroe ahead of the July Fourth holiday weekend.

Each week the team has had an education day, as well as other opportunities to learn more about working with the U.S. Forest Service. One week, the team attended a safety meeting and learned how Forest Service personnel correctly use power tools and how they look out for each other while out doing various tasks in the 203,000-acre forest. Another day, the team learned about invasive plant species found on the forest land and were able to ask botanists questions about plants. They have also learned about topographic maps and map reading while in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness. This past Friday, they spent the day at Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest, where the forest's archaeologist talked to them about the historical part of the national forest and its old-growth trees.

The group has also learned to identify Indiana's tree species. "A lot of them didn't know any of the basic trees," Lankenau said.

The crew's main focus has been to stop soil erosion and debris from entering the waters that eventually lead to the Ohio River and beyond. According to Hoosier National Forest recreation technician Dave Morris, all of the streams and water from the forest drain into the Ohio River. The team spent a lot of time working on the D Trail that connects Yellowwood State Forest with the Hoosier National Forest in the Belmont area between Bloomington and Nashville. The trail is used by hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers.

Lankenau said the D Trail work was difficult, but the team enjoyed working with the U.S. Forest Service mules. "That was fun. I think everyone enjoyed that," she said.

The group also worked on the Shirley Creek trail system near Orleans, rerouting a trail that was in a creek bottom farther up the hillside to protect the stream and make the trail easier for horses, bicyclists and hikers to use, Morris said.

"They are making good progress," he said. "They're a wonderful young crew to be around. I'm retirement age, but I just love being around them. They make me feel younger."

Since the teens are from Bloomington, they are more familiar with the area, which has helped, Lankenau said, adding that they are interested in hiking and some plan to go to college to study environmental management.

"The work days get long and really tough," she said, "but everyone has a really good attitude." That's even after being stung by hornets and dealing with lots of ticks and buzzing and biting flies.

This is the second time a crew sponsored by the Ohio River Foundation has worked in the Hoosier National Forest. The previous stint was in 2013. One difference is that this year, the $10,000 grant money was provided by the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County. The grant awarded to the Ohio River Foundation was part of the Community Foundation's Community Impact Funding Initiative grant with a focus on youth development.

"This project was an excellent fit for the focus area, while also being favorable for the local environment," said Marcus Whited, program director for the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, in an email. Whited said the grant was the first the foundation has awarded to the Ohio River Foundation.

Who they are

Crew members for the youth conservation team include:

--Adam Diersing, Bloomington High School South graduate, plans to attend Indiana University.

--Toudora Galuska, senior, Bloomington South.

--Camryn Lien, Bloomington South graduate, plans to attend Taylor University.

--Duncan Thompson, junior, Harmony School.

--Allie Westerfield, junior, Bloomington High School North

--Julia Wood, Bloomington South graduate, plans to attend IU.


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