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Maine LEAF Program

“This job really gives the chance to see the whole forest, not just look at the trees from the outside.”
- Danyell Myles

By Walter Wuthmann

People from all over the country come to vacation in Maine for the summer, but few get paid to do so. This year, The Nature Conservancy has given paid internships to three Chicago teenagers to restore trails at the Conservancy’s Saco Heath Preserve.

Tatyanna Redmond, Danyell Myles, and Mikia Robinson are all rising seniors at the Al Raby School for Community and the Environment in Chicago, Illinois, and were accepted to the Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program, or LEAF. The Conservancy started LEAF in 1995 with the goal of giving urban high school students in New York City hands-on environmental stewardship experience, and has now expanded the program to 22 other states.

This is LEAF’s first year operating in Chicago, and the interns are eager to spend some quality time in the Maine woods. “This job really gives the chance to see the whole forest,” adds Danyell, “Not just look at the trees from the outside.”

Working In the Bog

Saco Heath is a rare spot of wild land in suburbanized southern Maine. The heath is actually a coalesced domed bog, a kind of bog that formed as an ancient pond slowly filled with sphagnum moss. The site is home to several rare plant and animal species, including the endangered Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly. The trails at this southern gem, though, have fallen into potholed disrepair, and the old boardwalk extending into the heath is dangerously run down.

Tatyanna, Danyell, Mikia, and their mentor from Al Raby, Amani Abdur-Rahman, are working to restore this obsolete trail system to ensure that visitors can continue to safely access Saco Heath. Today, the girls are constructing the deck for the new boardwalk, carefully arranging the multicolored decking boards into an intricate pattern before screwing them in with power drills. Matt Coughlan, the Conservancy’s Trail Crew Leader, says the girls are way ahead of schedule.

Environmental Aspirations

“I love the work,” says Mikia. “I’m interested in doing engineering or construction when I grow up, so I love using the drill.” Although the other girls are pursuing careers in medicine, they speak of how important the environment and conservation are to their lives. They all care deeply about “making an impact.” Tatyanna, for example, explains the importance of safely disposing harmful chemicals used in her future medical practice.

Tatyanna sighs as she thinks about leaving on August 3rd, the last day of the internship. “I love being out here, love sitting on the boardwalk and looking out at the trees, how tall they are.” Perhaps, the memories of Maine the girls bring back to Chicago will fuel their environmental aspirations. They’re certainly leaving behind an impressive array of newly constructed boardwalks.

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