Trail Talk: Behind the scenes with Grand Teton National Park’s Youth Conservation Program – Week 5

Last week, the Youth Conservation Program reached the midway point of the 2018 season and things really heated up—with education! Aside from the important trail work YCP completes each year, the program gains great depth by working with other park divisions. This offers YCP participants a fuller context of other divisions’ roles while also introducing them first-hand to the many career opportunities within the National Park Service. Even during the busy month of July, three representatives from other divisions made themselves available to spend time with YCP.

On Monday, the crew worked with Nancy Bockino, Grand Teton National Park biological technician specializing in the study of whitebark pine trees and their habitat. Nancy climbs high in the mountains to find and protect this keystone tree species, and on Monday YCP got to join her. Crew members hiked up the steep approach trail to Teewinot, gaining more than 2,000 feet from the parking area. After an educational briefing, crew members stapled pheromone packets to the trees. These pheromone packets send a signal to the destructive pine beetle telling them the tree is occupied, and to move on. Pretty smart!

YCP is learning a lot about biology! Whitebark pine trees, a critical high-elevation species, have been threatened in recent years by destructive pine beetles. Installing pheromone patches on whitebark pines is critical for their survival.

Wednesday, the crew joined Sarah Hegg, park wildlife biologist, while she monitored osprey and peregrine falcon nests in the park. Sarah showed the crew both birds and their chicks through high-powered spotting-scopes. As a fitting bonus for wildlife day, everyone was able to safely observe at length a black bear wandering the berry bushes in Cascade Canyon. Sarah is a great wealth of information and everyone learned so much about the park’s birds, carnivores, and more!

The crew was happy to spend time with park biologist, Sarah Hegg, exploring the cliffs with spotting scopes and looking for falcons and osprey. Sarah is a wealth of knowledge of park species. The crew even saw a bear after watching the birds!

Thursday was YCP’s sound ecology day, hosted by Jenn Newton, the park’s social scientist. Five small groups hiked up five different canyons and recorded data on the people they encountered and the sounds they hear. The data set YCP has gathered over the last five years tells a compelling story about Grand Teton’s wilderness, and some of the forces and sounds that threaten the backcountry’s character. It is a great experience for everyone to take the time to simply walk and listen to the sounds of nature and really tune in.

YCP also tended to the drainage structures on the Surprise/Amphitheater lakes trail, adding to their already impressive tally of miles covered. Matt Moore, YCP and NPS trail crew leader said, “This was a week where we hiked far and wide, explored, worked hard, and peeled back another layer of this wondrous park, and, perhaps most importantly, we did it together.”

The 2018 Youth Conservation Program is halfway through their season and going strong!

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