Cultivating Conservationists: Partnerships Connect Young Ohioans with Nature
Community-based partners engage the next generation in conservation.
This page was updated on November 2, 2020.
In the spirit of “many hands make light work,” The Nature Conservancy teams up with community-based partners to engage the next generation in conserving nature around Ohio. However, the work is much more than removing non-native plants, clearing trails and planting trees. These efforts also invite teenagers and young adults to forge a lifelong connection with nature that only comes from spending time in it.
Involving young people in our work not only builds stronger communities, it cultivates conservation leaders who will be critical to the future health of our planet.
“Working in nature can fill a void left by a lack of access to green spaces and outdoor educational opportunities, or limited knowledge about potential jobs and long-term careers in conservation,” says Amy Brennan, TNC Ohio director of conservation. “Involving young people in our work not only builds stronger communities, it cultivates conservation leaders who will be critical to the future health of our planet.”
Getting Their Hands Dirty
As a global pandemic crippled the nation in early 2020, seven members of Groundwork Ohio River Valley’s (Groundwork ORV) Green Corps went to work removing bush honeysuckle, winter creeper, privet and other invasive plants from 20 acres at the TNC Ohio Stream and Wetland Mitigation Program's Jacoby Branch Project to prepare the landscape for restoration. Based in Cincinnati, Groundwork ORV employs young adults from urban neighborhoods who are interested in exploring careers that promote the environment, social justice and civic engagement.
"Working with TNC at Jacoby Branch has given our urban conservation corps the opportunity to get out of the city and feel connected to something bigger,” says Groundwork ORV executive director, Tanner Yess.
Groundwork ORV also supports a Green Team comprised of teenagers who are curious about nature and willing to participate in plantings, composting and other activities in their communities. The Green Team serves as a pipeline for the Green Corps, where members earn a living wage while building valuable skills necessary for pursuing a career in conservation.
“We worked with the Groundwork Green Team to introduce Cincinnati public school students to our Edge of Appalachia Preserve where they compared a healthy stream—full of crawdads, frogs and fish—with a creek located in a more urban setting near their schools,” says Rich McCarty, the preserve’s naturalist.
Each year, McCarty helps students connect with nature through field trips made possible by a partnership with the Cincinnati Museum Center, adding, “Some of these kids have never been in a forest, so just being out in nature is amazing to them.”
Science In Nature
At the Morgan Swamp Preserve in Northeast Ohio, TNC Ohio lead volunteer and retired schoolteacher, Janet Grout, stepped in to establish an outdoor education program after learning that local students were underperforming in science.
“I believed that part of the solution existed within minutes of their schools,” she says, in reference to TNC’s Dr. James K. Bissell Nature Center, built in 2017 and the first of its kind in Ashtabula County. “As teachers, we know that the best way to learn something is to experience it.”
Since then, Grout and a team of volunteers—many who are also retired schoolteachers—have transformed the nature center, located at the preserve’s Grand River Conservation Campus, into a community resource and destination for more than 750 students ranging from pre-K to high school seniors.
"The Nature Conservancy is a hidden gem in our area and my students look forward to taking a field trip there every year,” says Lindsay Stanek, a 5th grade teacher at Grand Valley Middle School. “The hands-on STEM activities and multi-ecosystem hikes represent learning experiences that connect seamlessly with our school district’s science standards while giving our students wonderful memories that they will surely cherish for a lifetime.”
Building A Resume
Within the picturesque ravines of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, TNC is developing a plan for restoring more than a mile of headwater stream at a site on land owned by Cleveland Metroparks. This spring (2021), the project will come to life thanks to a team deployed by American Conservation Experience (ACE), an organization that provides work opportunities in the outdoors for young adults who are considering careers in land management.
“For twelve weeks, we will train and work with a five-person crew to build 250 low-tech log jam features that will help slow water, capture sediment, reduce erosion, and create and reconnect habitat along 6,000 linear feet of headwater streams,” says Andrew Bishop, TNC Ohio restoration practitioner.
According to Bishop, these log jams are designed to mimic the natural accumulation of woody debris and organic material key to capturing soil and nutrients to improve water quality and wildlife habitat downstream.
“Designing a low-tech solution that is both economical and scalable was key,” says Bishop.
According to Bishop, the project will serve as a proof-of-concept that can be implemented by partners and volunteers across the valley, adding, “Cuyahoga Valley was created to bring national parks to the people. We are continuing that legacy by engaging young people in hands-on work that also helps them develop career skills.”