New experiences with an SCA Community Crew
Curtis Love had some serious questions earlier this month as he stood in the parking lot of the Hazelwood Carnegie Library branch, located above a laundromat and across from more than a handful of vacant and graffiti-tagged storefronts.
“Will there be grizzly bears? What about wolves?”
Told that there are no wild wolves or grizzlies in Pennsylvania, only black bears, Curtis quickly asked, “Well, what about snakes?”
The 14-year-old and a dozen other youths who worked in the Student Conservation Association’s Hazelwood crew for six weeks this summer clearing vacant lots in that Pittsburgh neighborhood were waiting for vans that would take them to the Allegheny National Forest, a natural habitat that was anything but that for them.
The forest foray is part of a pilot collaboration between the SCA, a national nonprofit public lands conservation organization, and the U.S. Forest Service, aimed at exposing urban youth to that sylvan setting — and inspiring them to consider a conservation career.
The Hazelwood crew, which cleared 27 lots this summer, was the last of the five community crews from Pittsburgh to visit the state’s only national forest, 150 miles north of the city and much farther than that from their comfort zone.
Nancy Schaefer, SCA program manager in Pittsburgh, said the Hazelwood crew got off to a rocky start two years ago, in part because of push-back from parents and participants about its conservation-themed work.
“They told us, ‘We don’t want to be lumberjacks,’ ” Ms. Schaefer said. “It’s hard for urban kids to have an appreciation or understanding of places they’ve never visited, and I was really skeptical that any of the kids would want to do this. You could count on one hand, maybe one finger, the number of kids who have slept outside in the woods or camped.
“But for this, their parents pushed them. Plus, it’s a workday and they’re getting paid.”