By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Students passionate about the environment can help the state provide outdoor recreation for their generation while learning more about Michigan’s natural resources.
Applications for the state’s Youth Conservation Council are available on the council’s website and will be accepted until April 30.
“If we are going to sustain world-class resources, you have to have people that care about them, and so how do you get the next generation to care about them?” said Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Natural Resources.
The Youth Conservation Council was created in 2013 to bring the next generation’s conservation leaders — ages 14 to 18 — together to discuss how the DNR can increase young people’s interest in Michigan’s outdoors, according to Ray Rustem, the Youth Conservation Council’s adviser.
The 25-member council includes students selected from across Michigan to give the DNR insight into the interests of kids in all areas of the state. This year, the council will fill 10 open positions.
Gabrielle Herin, a student at Kalamazoo College who grew up in Trenton, is finishing her second and final year on the council, which she joined to continue her interest in trail maintenance and hiking.
“I knew the primary purpose of the council was to help get kids out into the environment,” Herin said. “I thought I would be able to help with that.”
The council created a blog for members to share their outdoor experiences and uses social media popular among youth to reach kids. For example, Rustem said the youth council is encouraging kids to share the pictures they take outdoors on Instagram.
An important suggestion the council brought to the DNR was to offer more outdoor events and activities for kids, Herin said.
“Once they are actually out in nature and experiencing it, then they’ll want to get involved in protecting it,” said Herin, who added that her interest in trail maintenance started when her dad took her hiking.
While council members contribute to the DNR in Lansing, there isn’t always a conservation organization to get involved with in their hometown, Rustem said. The council this year will encourage members to start their own local groups, to help build leadership skills.
The DNR also plans to start a mentor program to connect council members with experts who share their interests.
Mentors will help students pursue these interests as career options — for example if a member is interested in working in Parks and Recreation, the council will find a mentor in this industry, Rustem said.
“I think that would definitely help members, because sometimes it’s hard to think of different ways to get involved in the community,” said Herin, who wants to become an environmental chemist. “I think mentors will help to accelerate this process.”
Council members this year will also learn about advanced environmental topics, such as invasive species, to get them thinking about the issues they might address in their careers.
Rustem is promoting the council application on the DNR website, Facebook page, and also through local outdoor recreation clubs, especially those in urban areas.
“I would love to get some kids from more urban areas, that don’t have as much of a chance to do these things,” Rustem said.
To apply, students can visit the Natural Resources Commission Youth Conservation Council’s website: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10369-291248–,00.html
By ELIZABETH FERGUSON