On a 103-degree day like today, most people stick to air-conditioned buildings or poolside recliners. Not 19-year-old Jonathon Jackson.
With a crew of a dozen other teens, the South Oak Cliff High graduate spent the afternoon trudging through the Great Trinity Forest in snake chaps and a work helmet to help restore a three-mile bike trail near Rochester Park. It's but one of several projects championed by the Student Conservation Association's summer conservation crew program, which pays 30 students around $1,200 each for six weeks of trail maintenance, bridge construction and invasive plant removal. The program also provides environmental education, job-readiness seminars and a camping trip.
This is Jackson's fourth summer with the conservation crews after he found out about them through a cousin in 2006. "I'm an outside person," Jackson tells Unair Park. "When I was growing up, I was always out in the yard with my dad and granddaddy -- I like being out here and learning new things."
He pointed to the dirt trail that cut behind him though a cluster of oak and pecan trees.
"We widened it about three feet, made it so bikes can roll through easily," he said. "We're just making sure it's wide enough and there's nothing in the corridor so no one gets hurt."
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This was one of the trails visited by a certain former president last winter, though it was likely overgrown when he rode it. After the crew's work is finished, SCA and the city of Dallas will maintain the trail, Dallas Program Manager Lisa Tatum said, perhaps by getting a local cycling group to adopt it.
Between working on the trail amidst the mosquitoes and spiders and visiting places like the Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area, the students have broadened their knowledge and experience of the natural world.
"I saw a beetle attacking a cicada," Rolland Gilmore, a DeSoto High student, recounted with wide eyes. "I was sitting there watching it for like 10 minutes. And the beetle was having a baby!"
Though he and most of his crewmates complained about the oppressive heat and the relentless flying pests, most seemed to think the effort is worth it. "It's nice to be out in nature and not stuck inside," Gilmore said, adding that he hopes to bring his friends out to show them his handiwork. "It's our trail."