BRIGHAM CITY -- "Feel free to grab anything that moves. If you realize that you've grabbed a spider, feel free to drop it!"
Ranger Katie McVey gives a group of Top of Utah teens their instructions one morning as we cross the parking lot at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. We find ourselves standing in a drainage pond crawling with frogs, macro-invertebrates and spiders the size of my thumb.
Our objective was to grab and analyze 80 or so Western chorus frogs. Frogs are natural water quality indicators, so by analyzing the frogs, the refuge is also taking observations on the water quality as well as its impact on the native species.
With the Youth Conservation Corps, the day begins before the sun, and your work, have too much time to get ahead of you.
Since 1970, YCCs across the nation have helped do all sorts of maintenance work in national parks and other federally managed lands. Generations of youth have had the opportunity to learn about land management, water quality and land preservation through grants from the federal government.
"We pretty much do all the odds and ends at the bird refuge. We do lots of outside work. We get to do lots of cool stuff," says Savannah Allred, a junior at Bear River High.
The goal on this day was to capture the frogs, and take them to the education center to measure them and check for physical abnormalities. Then most of the frogs were released back into the water; a few were sent away for further study.
McVey says all this attention must be puzzling to the frogs.
From their perspective, she says, they've been "abducted by these big, funny creatures that are probably going to eat us. We are enormous to them! We poke them, probe them and make them very uncomfortable, and then we drop them back in their homes. Then we say people who claim to be abducted by aliens are crazy! Really, we ourselves do it all the time!"
One of the corps' projects this year is carving a new refuge walking trail for public use. For some of the teen workers, the new trail is both their favorite and least favorite part of their summer job.
"Even though it's a good thing, so there are other trails for people to go out on, it's still tough work," says Carmen Garcia, a Box Elder High senior.
Tausha Morris, a junior at Bear River High, said she loves working on the YCC and helping the environment, but her least favorite part is working on the trail and "being in the hot sun."
The new trail will provide a fresh view of the bird refuge for visitors who have been here before as well as those who are new to the site.
"We have a lot of people that connect with the refuge and the wildlife in a lot of different ways," said Bob Barrett, manager of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
"We have people that've been coming out here for 60 years. They remember their grandfather taking them out for a duck hunt, or going bird watching; just all kinds of these very personal stories about how special the refuge has been to them."
Along with helping research native and non-native species and doing odd jobs on the refuge, the YCC is also about educating the public. Since the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is at the bottom of the watershed, oil from the highways and streets, fertilizers from agriculture and other by-products of our way of life end up affecting the refuge in one way or another.
The youth corps, along with education specialist Kathi Stopher, help to preserve the refuge by educating people on the impact we each have on the ecosystem we live in.
Jaden Miller, a junior from Bonneville High, says "(Our job) teaches other people. It gets them to learn more about all the cool things around them. People learn about pollution and what it does to the environment."
"The reason I chose to be in YCC is because I wanted to find out if this is something I'd like to do for a lifetime job and to also have a summer job and be able to get outside and have fun working," said Colton Fielding, a junior at Box Elder High.
To apply for a job on the Youth Conservation Corps, go the Bear River Migratory Bird refuge at 2155 W. Forest St. and ask at the front desk for an application. Or call 435-734-6422 for more information. Members of the corps are randomly selected from all applications submitted.
Abby Payne will be a senior at Bear River High School this fall. When she's not singing, writing or talking a million miles an hour, you can always find her reading. E-mail her at wild_ email@example.com.