In 2017, the NFF and REI brought eight youth from the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (UKB) from their home in Oklahoma to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest for several weeks of learning, service and exploration. This unique experience provided the youth with an opportunity to learn about their ancestral homeland while improving the National Forest through a series of restoration projects.
In 2018, we built on this successful program with a new cadre of youth from the UKB. This year, the crew engaged in service activities, including some in collaboration with community volunteer groups, to improve and restore campgrounds and trails, dispersed campsites and other recreational infrastructure. In addition, they had a chance to work with Forest archeologists mapping cultural sites, gathering information used to protect these resources and for future project planning purposes.
But it’s not all work; the crew also experienced the Forest, visit the Trail of Tears, and to fish and relax. In addition to improving the Forest for all visitors, these youth were exposed to career opportunities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, gained valuable job skills, spent time surrounded by nature and earned an income.
This project is a great example of how REI and the NFF are working to solve the disconnect many of today’s youth have from the natural world.
This unique partnership does so much more than simply restore the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. These youth get the opportunity to learn about conservation careers (two participants have expressed interest in Biological Sciences and Archaeology), visit nearby towns to learn about the area's history, and to immerse themselves in their ancestral homeland. The youth corps did make a meaningful impact on the forest by:
- restoring 6 acres of wetlands
- restoring 24 acres of wildlife habitat
- treating 24 acres for invasive plants
- maintaining 4 campgrounds, and
- restoring 6 miles of stream
In June and July, seven UKB youth worked their traditional homeland, on the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest near Blairsville, Georgia. Their work included:
- conducting archaeology surveys to be used for forest planning, including recreation planning;
- maintenance of developed and dispersed recreation sites;
- trail maintenance; and
- riparian/bog restoration to support pollinators.
The youth were taken on field trips to cultural heritage sites, which allowed them to experience and connect with their ancestral homeland.