Maintaining urban meadows across the city, including this one that the city installed on Franklin Street this fall, could be one of the Portland Youth Corps projects. The goal of the youth corps is to give teenagers an insight into environmental stewardship and conservation. Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — Two dozen teenagers will get a taste of conservation and environmental stewardship this summer as they help the city maintain and beautify its parks as members of the new Portland Youth Corps.

Portland Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Ethan Hipple is working with Portland Parks Conservancy and Maine Audubon on the career exploration program. He spent a summer building trails in Montana when he was 16 through the Student Conservation Association and it helped shape his future.

“It had a lot to do with what I am doing today being in the parks and recreation field,” Hipple said.

The Portland program for 14- to 16-year-olds, who will receive a stipend for their work, has been years in the making.

“We had been working on this for a number of years, the concept at least, but only recently have we begun planning for it because of the involvement of the Parks Conservancy and their ability to raise money for it,” Hipple said.

The Portland Parks Conservancy has raised $25,000 for the program, according to its executive director, Nan Cummings, and hopes to raise another $10,000 between now and the program’s June 2021 launch.

Eric Topper, director of education for Maine Audubon, said the program is an extension of the organization’s work in Portland and will be “an important strategic investment in our future.”

“We want to enable more robust pipelines to conservation careers and leadership for Maine youth, and that can start with rewarding summer jobs,” Topper said. “We also want to ensure that anyone who has a job caring for land gets basic ecology training and learns how to do so with wildlife and habitat front of mind.”

The corps’ work could include trail maintenance, bridge and boardwalk construction, invasive species control, community garden support and work on playground and arboriculture projects, Hipple said. He envisions the group helping, for example, with the urban meadow projects on Franklin Street, Western Promenade and Eastern Promenade, and at Deering Oaks and Riverton Park.

“We have a never ending amount of work that needs to be done to care for our parks. They are well loved by the public,” Hipple said.

Because the parks and recreation field as a whole traditionally has lacked the diversity that can be found in other careers, Cummings said, attracting a diverse group of students to the program is a goal. Portland Youth Corps will work with Portland Public Schools and Julia Trujillo Luengo, the director of the city’s Office of Economic Opportunity, to recruit students, Hipple said.

The students will get environmental education from Maine Audubon, City Arborist Jeff Tarling and the director of the city’s Parks Division, Alex Marshall. Cummings also hopes to send the students to classes at the Ecology School, a Saco-based organization that uses hands-on learning to change how people think about science, food and the environment.

“We see Portland Youth Corps as an opportunity to combine the social and environmental values so many teens already possess with the fact that many are also beginning to explore careers and other roles that will fulfill them as adults,” Topper said.

While there are a number of organizations that work on conservation efforts in Maine, Cummings is excited this one focuses solely on youth.

“There is nothing else like it in Maine,” she said. “We are hoping it is such a success, it becomes a model for other communities.”

For more information about the Youth Corps, visit portlandparksconservancy.org/projects.

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