Celebrating stewardship

When Shea Newnham goes to Wolf Creek Campground, he can still see the trail that he helped build as a Yukon Youth Conservation Corps (Y2C2) member.

Ryan Drummond sees his stint as “the beginning of my understanding of the real meanings of natural resources and conservation”. Today, he is a fish and wildlife technician with Environment Yukon.

And when Alex Gesheva is stuck in traffic, every once in a while he finds himself singing The Garbage Song that he learned from his time on the Conservation Action Team (CAT).

On its 25th anniversary, it is time to bring as many of the 700 past-participants of Y2C2 and CAT as possible to the Kusawa Lake campground later this month to share these stories and experiences and more. “It will be fantastic,” says Remy Rodden, manager of Environmental Education and Youth Programs for the territorial department of Environment. “I’m not sure how many will sign up at the last minute, but we already have folks coming from across the country. It will be great to see what everyone is doing.”

Rodden was there to lead the first CAT camps. They brought an average of 30 Yukon youth together each summer to learn about the “natural wonders found in the territory”.

They experienced nature over eight to 10 days of canoeing, hiking and hands-on activities that covered such topics as ecology and wildlife management, hunting, trapping, fishing and mining. And games. “There are games that Remy taught us which I have played with hundreds of other kids,” says Newnham, who is now a program facilitator with the Youth Achievement Centre. “On our last meal, we had to eat without regular utensils and, instead, with the cooking implements.”

Another favourite memory was visiting Fort Selkirk: “That experience left quite the impression on my mind,” says Newnham today. “We were wandering around and exploring and it felt like the coolest place I’ve ever been to.”

That, that right there, that is what Rodden and his department was hoping for with the CAT and Y2C2 programs. “It is about relationships and stewardship,” he says. “It is the relationship we have, as human beings, with the environment and relationships we have with each other in this program, and with the communities in the Yukon.”

Indeed, so far the Y2C2 program has hired 491 high school and post-secondary students to complete 652 conservation projects in 27 Yukon communities and 14 First Nations, and conducted learning sessions in 10 elementary schools to a total of 693 students.

Although Y2C2 was a great summer job for someone wanting to enter a career in environment work, Rodden says that is just a “small portion” of participants. “They end up doing all kinds of things,” he says. “This is really here to spread the stewardship consciousness through the population. “We end up with a bit more environmental literacy and we are working in groups and teams and we are conscious about the effects of what we do in the world around us. It makes us better Yukoners and better planetary citizens at the same time.”

And how does Rodden measure success? “When you are in camp and you see a participant who has little information about this environment and is a little shy and, by the end of camp they have been working in groups and have made friends from all over the Yukon and relationships that last a lifetime. “Then they go home and talk to their parents about recycling and environmental issues.”

Now that Rodden and the two programs are celebrating their 25th anniversary, he will be able to see how the participants have fared in life and the role this “piece of the puzzle” played. “It will be fantastic,” says Rodden. “It will be great to see what everyone is doing. “Our Yukon kids have such great opportunities here and so, our Yukon kids do so many amazing things around the planet.”

Past participants and their families can still sign up for the weekend retreat, August 21 to 23, at Kusawa Lake, by visiting www.gov.yk.ca. Click on the “Environment & You” tab and select “CAT & Y2C3 Anniversary Celebration”.

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