Youth Conservation Corps: Present and Future Environmental Leaders

Parks summer intern Michael Lu spent time learning about the King County Parks Youth Conservation Corps and wrote up his thoughts for our blog:

This summer, I had the pleasure of following around the King County Parks Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) to take pictures and document their work. The YCC is a rotating group of 10 extremely cool high schoolers, all of whom were passionate and intelligent. As a not-so-cool teen myself a mere three years ago, it was amazing to see the work they were doing and the education they were receiving. 

Created in 2021 after a county council mandate, the YCC has been hard at work each summer maintaining our parks and learning about our environment. They have learned about the complicated history of the Duwamish River while kayaking on it, plant identification while making natural dyes, and park archaeology (sidenote: did you know we have a parks archaeologist? She helps ensure that all our restoration work doesn’t endanger the cultural history of an area).

Not only does this program help keep our parks in good shape and protect our local ecosystems, but it also helps prepare youth to solve the incredible ecological and social challenges of our time. 

A young man in a bright red sweatshirt bends down to a long branch holding a small saw. A heavily wooded park surrounds him. 

YCC member Kaz cuts a fallen branch for use in a compost pile. This year, the YCC has helped maintain Dick Thurnau Memorial Park, Skyway Park, and White Center Heights Park. Their efforts are focused in the extremely diverse south King County area, as those parks were historically underserved. 

Two young women sit at a desk. One holds a small turtle, about the size of her palm while the other measures it with a pair of calipers. A third figure looks on, supervising them.

Anise and Angie measure, weigh, photograph, and mark an endangered western pond turtle to prepare it for release into the wild after being raised at the Woodland Park Zoo. Western Pond Turtle populations have been decimated by invasive bullfrogs who prey on the baby turtles. This program allows the turtles to grow bigger than what the bullfrogs can eat in a safe environment. 

This year’s program just came to an end, with each member sharing their stories about the environment, about the places and natural processes that have affected them. After all, we are shaped by our surroundings, and the line between us and nature is vanishingly small. Their stories got to the heart of why we strive towards conservation, restoration, and environmental justice in the first place. Here, Cynthia shares some prose about a beach she once frequented to the friends and family of the YCC, as well as some Parks staff.  

These young adults are the future, so the education they receive will have a profound impact in the coming years, and maybe even decades. With accelerating pace of climate change, profound habitat loss, and ever-growing consequences borne by the world’s most vulnerable people, we stand at a crossroads. They will be the ones forging the path ahead, so it is vital that we invest in them now. 

Interested in learning more about the YCC? Want notifications on when applications are open for the 2024 cohort? Go to