ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST - Pasadena native Katsu Che Frausto has a "cool" summer job that involves hiking steep trails, working in stifling heat and finding the occasional startled rattlesnake.
The 19-year-old, who attends the University of Colorado at Boulder, is one of about 25 high school and college-age individuals, including several from the San Gabriel Valley, participating in the Student Conservation Association's "Angeles Wildfire Recovery Project."
The three-month recovery effort, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, aims to restore recreation areas and habitats in the Angeles National Forest after last year's devastating Station Fire.
"It's been really cool being outdoors with different minority youth, working together and having that bond and that team-building" experience, Frausto said by phone at his home Wednesday afternoon, after a rigorous work day.
"It's been rewarding seeing all the work we've accomplished over the last month."
Student Conservation Association members, who will work a total of about 5,000 hours in the forest, are helping rebuild fire-damaged trails, removing invasive and flammable brush, and restoring picnic and other recreation areas. At least 100 local community volunteers are also expected to participate in the effort by the end of the summer.
"It's a project that provides real benefits to the forest itself, to the forest lands damaged by the fire," said Jay Watson, the Oakland-based regional director of the Student Conservation Association.
"It's engaging local youth in restoring their forest. They look up at it every day living there, and in the long run, will hopefully allow the public to get back out on the forest for outdoor recreation."
The project consists of two crews of local youths and young adults on month-long assignments, and a nationally recruited three-month wildfire recovery corps of college-age individuals. In addition, an intern has been assigned to work with the Forest Service on projects in "the back country" or designated wilderness areas.
The New Hampshire-based Student Conservation Association, which provides students and young adults the opportunity to serve and protect national parks, forests and urban communities, raised $200,000 to execute the project, with help from Home Depot and foundations including the National Forest Foundation.
"After an emergency like (the Station Fire), we have to compete for funds for restoration with everyone else," said Marty Dumpis, deputy forest supervisor for the Angeles National Forest. "They've given us a generous head start on all these projects."
The U.S. Forest Service is in the midst of assessing trail damage and formulating a comprehensive recovery plan for the forest, which is expected to be completed in August.
The Station Fire, which erupted last August and killed two Los Angeles County firefighters, was the largest wildfire in modern Los Angeles County history.
The SCA recovery project helps participants develop an appreciation of nature while getting to explore the outdoors in their local communities, said May Cooc, a youth crew leader.
"A lot of them never knew the area existed, or just never got a chance to explore the outdoors," Cooc, 25, of Oakland said. "This program gave them that opportunity."
While the local youth crews are paid an hourly wage, the college-age conservation corps members earn a living allowance, Watson said.
Meanwhile, Frausto, who finishes up a month-long stint in the program this week, has signed up with another crew that starts work next week.
Not only did Frausto need the money to pay his out-of-state tuition, he said, but "it's like getting paid to workout."
And this time, he encouraged his 18-year-old cousin, who just graduated from Pasadena High School, to join him.
"I told him to stop staying inside and to get a job - to come and do what I'm doing," said Frausto. "I don't think he knows what he's in for."
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