Montana’s Centennial Valley is a long way from New York City…and the distance isn’t measured only in miles. All five New York boroughs would fit into the valley…twice. But then, you could easily fit the entire population of the Centennial into a small Manhattan apartment building. Unless, of course, you count the elk, deer, moose, bears, wolves and cattle
“It’s hard to believe what we’re seeing is real. I mean it all looks like someone just photo-shopped a big backdrop,” observed 17-year old Armin Radonicic, one of three city kids spending a month working in the valley. Along with Armin are 17-year old Christopher Abdullah and 16-year old Ezequiel Quinones.
So, how did three kids from some of the toughest neighborhoods in New York end up in the remote reaches of the Northern Rocky Mountains?
They’re part of The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program. The goal of LEAF is to provide the next generation with the skills and knowledge to take own the world’s pressing environmental challenges. But, it recognizes that first-hand experience with Nature is as critical to this goal as the academics. That’s why 27 high school students have fanned out across the country this summer. With these three, their usual world has definitely been turned upside down, but they’ve more than risen to the occasion.
Their days have been full helping our Science and Stewardship team. The tasks get mixed reviews. They all agreed that pulling down old barbed wire fence to make it easier for wildlife to move…well, it “sucked”. Making an inventory of rare plants was way more fun.
The crew was spent several days doing what’s called pebble surveys – one of the ways we can measure the impact of our restoration work on the creek. As they plucked and measured rocks from water that was still frozen just a few miles upstream, Christopher declared that Hellroaring Creek was badly misnamed.
“What’s that smell of frozen meat? Oh, it’s my hands …This is like having a snowball fight without any gloves on!”
There was no shortage of humor, but they also learned what the size of these stones means for the health of the creek and why planting willows on the stream banks is good for fish.
But, doesn’t it get a little bit boring for three kids from one of the most exciting cities in the world?
“We’re way too tired at the end of the day to get bored,” they all agreed. “But seriously, look at all this beauty…and the night sky is just unbelievable,” Added Armin.
It wasn’t all work and no play. The guys traveled with their mentor, Colin Weatherby, to Yellowstone National Park, the Madison River, three of the state’s colleges and even spent time at Montana's coolest ghost town.
Sixteen year old Ezequiel Quinones lit up when he talked about the trip to nearby Yellowstone, “We saw a moose like right along the road…and buffalo and tons of elk!”
Even though the three all attend high schools that specialize in science and environmental studies, this summer gave them a connection to nature that would have been impossible inside a classroom. It also provided something that all three had wanted; independence and new experiences.
It’s giving them, as Christopher put it, “The skills to be a better man of tomorrow.”
August 02, 2011