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Young people are making a positive impact on the landscape and on hikers enjoying Yellowstone trails.

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Summer Stewardship in Yellowstone with Youth Conservation Corps

photo of dirt trail in high, bare mountains

Youth Conservation Corps workers on the trail


The geyser wonderland called Yellowstone National Park is home to a residential Youth Conservation Corps (YELL-YCC). The YELL-YCC is a youth employment and education summer program for 50 15-18 year olds and 16 staff.

The youth come from diverse communities across the United States to participate in one of two separate four and a half week sessions. Each session incorporates service-learning experiences, where youth complete projects that range from trail work to fence building.

One recent project was a trail re-route at Trout Lake. Two YELL-YCC crew leaders and seven youth worked to complete the project. Located in the Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of the park, the Trout Lake trail is a popular trail for visitors.

photo of trail worker

At work in Yellowstone National Park


Due to the large amount of foot traffic, this steep trail had become ultra-compacted and slick to walk on in places. Also, many social paths were created to cut corners to avoid the dangerous and slick parts of the trail. This caused further erosion, killed vegetation, and ultimately destroyed some of the habitat and aesthetic beauty of the area.

One of the YCC youth who worked on the trail stated, “I now see how much work goes into trails, how fragile the ecosystem in which a trail is set can be, and how simple things like walking off trail to see something interesting can have such a huge impact when many people do it.” Therefore trail maintenance positively impacts the landscape.

For visitor safety, a new trail was planned and constructed to meet the remaining loop trail around the lake, and the old trail was rehabilitated (rehabbed). Rehabbing a trail involves breaking up the old, compacted soil of the trail; transplanting small plants to the broken soil; watering these plants; and moving naturally fallen trees and other debris across the old trail to make it look less appealing to walk on.


photo of big log on edge of trail

Using logs for trail stabilization

With streaks of dirt on their faces and blackened lodge pole pine sap soaked into their jeans, the youth said, that they “made a positive impact on the landscape and on hikers who passed through the area.”

Another stated that, “we made the trail safer for hikers.” The YCC youth saw trails differently after their training and actual trail work. One youth confirmed this by saying, “I never thought so many jobs, work, or detail went into trail systems.”

Another said, that from his perspective, “This brown path, that merely lead to a destination became an intricate system that requires much maintenance to exist.” Doing trail work has also interested these students in hiking and other outdoor activities.

One remarked, “Working on trails has heightened my interest in these activities from an already very high point, and it has made me want to do more such work.”

Map of trail near Twin Lakes and Mount Hope

A 2013 Youth Conservation Corps crew at Yellowstone


It is a rare opportunity that youth connect with trails in such a way that sheds light on how they are designed, maintained, and used. But even more importantly, when youth can call a trail “their own” and be proud of their work, they become ambassadors for trails. For every time they hike a trail, they will recall the Trout Lake trail, carrying the same hope, with fingers crossed, that one day they will be able to revisit their trail with their own families to share their connection to the land.


About the authors

Robert Powell, Youth Leader

Raised in rural Missouri, graduated high school in 2013, and will attend College of the Ozarks this coming fall. Robert spent his second year in Yellowstone’s Youth Conservation Corps after being invited back as a Youth Leader for his exemplary performance as a youth. He enjoys learning about botany, working hard, and exploring the great outdoors.  

 Kristen Schulte, Education Coordinator
A Missouri native, Kristen’s passion for the outdoors was ignited on a backcountry trail crew while in high school. Ever since this experience, she has dedicated her career to a myriad of organizations that emphasis environmental education while working with youth. Currently she serves as the Education Coordinator for the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps piloting her Master’s project, which was the development of the Resource Education curriculum. Kristen also received a Youth Scholarship for training and mentoring opportunities at the 2013 American Trails International Trails Symposium.

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