By M.K. Luther -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Randolph-Macon Academy cadet Sean Knick found an outdoor training classroom almost in his own backyard while interning at the Shenandoah National Park this summer.
Knick, a 15-year-old R-MA sophomore, spent eight weeks working as a paid intern with the National Park Service through the Youth Conservation Corps.
"Ever since I could pretty much walk, I have been going all through the park and up into the woods," Knick said.
The YCC program accepts teens between the ages of 15 and 18 for the paid summer intern positions on land management areas. The YCC was created in 1971 as a way for young people to be exposed to conservation efforts and public parks, according to the National Park Service Web site.
In June, Knick joined about 17 or 18 other young interns from around the region and spent the next few weeks laboring along the North and South districts and the Waynesboro area of Shenandoah National Park.
Knick, a Rappahannock County resident, was able to live at home and work day shifts, starting at 7:30 a.m., cleaning and maintaining sections, trails and public buildings in the national park.
What might seem like menial and unpleasant work to most teens, Knick found to be an invaluable experience and introduction to actual fieldwork life in the natural and life sciences.
The YCC interns painted the back of road signs to help achieve a "natural look," Knick said, and removed ashes from campground fire pits, and cleaned the park's public bath facilities.
"It gave me more insight into -- if I became a biologist -- what I would actually be doing," Knick said.
The YCC student interns worked in crews of three, with assigned, college-age crew leaders who also provided transportation through the park. The crew leaders both supervised and joined the younger interns in completing the duties, Knick said,
The student interns also were given a CPR and first aid class, receiving certifications after the completion, and spent one day at a leadership training camp in Luray. The majority of the other students he worked with were from the neighboring counties, Knick said, but he had a unique, local familiarity with the park.
"I was the only one from the eastern side of the mountain," Knick said.
The intern program was recommended to Knick by his R-MA biology teacher, Susan Gilette, who wanted to cultivate his interest and aptitude for environmental science.
"She really guided me to this," Knick said.
Knick, who wants to pursue the study of biology and forestry in college, hopes to continue his outdoor and natural sciences education with the National Park Service, and is exploring the possibility of working at Yellowstone National Park for future summers.