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Summer job outside: Youth Conservation Corps at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Youth Conservation Corps offers a chance to do good and work outside at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

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The colors come in a July landscape at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in 2018.
Dale Bowman

I was doing a story at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in the summer of 2012 when a young man, sporting a Cubs hat, kept grinning. I finally realized it was Zach Minas, son of Norm Minas, the late great Kankakee River wanderer.

Minas came to mind last week when Midewin sent an announcement about applying for the 2020 Youth Conservation Corps team.

So I messaged Minas a few questions. Within minutes, a treatise came back.

Funny the things that trigger life paths and memories.

For me, it was hiking a summer on the Appalachian Trail, a year after college. I paid for that decision for years afterward. But it was worth it. I learned lessons in perseverance that still matter and solidified my goal to write about the outdoors. It would take 15 years to reach that goal, but it was worth it.

I digress.

The YCC at Midewin “plant native Illinois prairie plant species, clear brush, maintain trails and more June 8 to July 31, 2020; network and learn on weekly off-site explorer days.’’

If you are a 15- to 18-year-old who thinks that sounds like fun, well, here is Minas on his two summers in YCC.

“It was a fantastic experience that I still cherish to this day,’’ he messaged. “It taught me a lot about the native and non-native species, even if I don’t remember much about the native ones. Knowing that I helped put in work, that will hopefully be enjoyed by many, many individuals for years to come, is a wonderful feeling, even if what I did was just a small speck in terms of the grand scheme of it all.

“Whether it was helping to work on the start of trails, to collecting seeds for some of the native plants to help spread them farther around the area Midewin has, to the removal of a lot of the non-native species, it was all fun.

“It was great for team-building, since myself, and the five other members of the Youth Corps, alongside our boss and whichever other crew we were helping that day, we had to all work together to get our tasks for the day done. I would highly recommend anyone who loves nature to apply, or anyone who is even curious about it to apply too.’’

Applications for YCC are open through March 6. Details are at fs.usda.gov/working-with-us/opportunities-for-young-people/youth-conservation-corps-opportunities. Mail applications to USDA Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, 30239 S. State Rt. 53, Wilmington, IL 60481 or email to Patricia.Dyken@USDA.gov.

Minas caught the overall draw of Midewin, too.

“As I said earlier, and I’ll say it again, Midewin is a wonderful place to visit, and really feels like a hidden gem,’’ he messaged.

Got that right.

Resized/Sun-Times
Zach Minas working YCC at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in the summer of 2012.
Dale Bowman

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