Green Team Spotlight: Ashante goes to Yellowstone National Park

The Following interview was conducted and written by Curt Collier National Youth Program Director Groundwork USA/Deputy Director Groundwork Hudson Valley


Ashante Kwon Harris Groundwork Denver

Ashante Kwon Harris, 19, arrived at the Yellowstone YCC (Youth Conservation Corps) dining hall with more energy than expected for someone who had a late evening looking for wolves.  “I’ve always loved wolves,” she said, “They’re my favorite animal.”  Unfortunately, the group didn’t spot any wolves that evening, but there was a particularly spectacular full moon rise and a burst of excitement when a coyote passed a few feet from the group and appeared as a silhouette on a ridge.   “I just want to see more of them….more of nature in general.”

Ashante got her start with Groundwork Denver after a friend from school told her about the organization.  “At first it was all about the pay,” she said matter-of-factly, “Do the job, get it done, get paid.”  But working with Groundwork restoring Rocky Mountain Arsenal changed all that.  Groundwork Denver received more funding this past spring to do conservation work in the Arsenal.  The Trust organized teams of youth to restore four miles of riparian habitat, removed invasives on 160 acres, and collected 10 pounds of native seeds for replanting.   “Rocky Mountain Arsenal used to be one of the most polluted places in the country…but it’s amazing to see what we can do if we put the environment back.  That showed me right there what we can do and changed my view of nature” Ashante raced through the list of accomplishments.  “Sorry if I’m talking too fast.  I get passionate when I talk about these things.”   She pauses.  ”Groundwork helped me to appreciate nature better and to understand why we need to take better care of it, in order for it to take better care of us.”

The experience of working in Rocky Mountain Arsenal helped Ashante better understand the relationship between the natural and human environments.  “People need to realize how important the environment is and why we need to take care of it,” she added.  “We need to realize the impact of all of this,” she said waving her arms toward Bunsen Peak, “because if it isn’t here…we’re not here.”

Groundwork USA worked with Judy Knuth Folts, Deputy Chief of Resource Education and Youth Programs and her colleague Bob Fuhrmann, Youth Programs Manager, at Yellowstone National Park, to create an opportunity for  more youth to work in the park.   In addition to the extensive amount of work the youth do back in their hometowns they get to spend a week working in Yellowstone National Park with the Youth Conservation Corps staff.  This helps the youth connect their efforts at home with the broader conservation effort in America.

Ashante talked about her experience in Yellowstone National Park.  “I never thought I’d get to travel to Yellowstone….I just LOVE this place,” she said emphatically.  “I never thought I’d get to see a waterfall, or see bison.  I never thought I’d get to see a lake so big it looked like an ocean. “Ashante reflected for a moment.  “Seeing this makes me want to travel and see more beautiful places.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not to say I don’t like city life as well, but it’s great to see creatures other than humans,” she smiled.  Ashante related the story of how the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and how she sees her work as a similar effort.  “We need to help people understand that if a species gets lost, we have to work to reintroduce them.  I think people are just now getting that message.”

Ashante’s family is proud of her efforts.  “My family was all for me joining Groundwork.   It’s a legit job and outside work is hard, but when I come home tired at night, my family knows why.”  Ashante talked about her dad who did similar work when he was younger.  “My dad knows what I’m talking about and why we need nature.  He’s not a tree hugger or hippy, “she laughed, “but he knows why we need to conserve it.”

Ashante reflected on how more youth could be attracted to conservation work.  “Well it’s really up to the youth to get that message out.  I mean adults can tell youth all day long why they need to do conservation work but it’s better if the youth hear it from their own peers.  They know where I’m coming from.”  Ashante talked about her own efforts at recruiting other youth.  “I tell people all the time about my job.  It’s hard, I tell them, but rewarding.  I’ve already recruited a lot of new people!” she beamed.   “And to tell you the truth, I’ve already forgotten about the pay.  I do it now, to do it, “she added.  “It’s changed my life, my own behavior.  I turn off the lights when I leave a room, I clean up around my apartment building and help maintain the landscaping.  I have my own garden I help maintain over at a local elementary school.”  She paused…”I never thought I’d do that….but that’s what I do now.”

Ashante went on to tell how working with Groundwork and being in Yellowstone National Park has dramatically changed her career plans.  “Seeing all of this, and doing the work we do at Groundwork makes me want to pursue this field.  I want to be a park ranger now…..I want to work for YCC…that’s definitely a consideration,” she exclaimed.  “Before I wanted to be a doctor, because I like people and I wanted to help them get better.  But now, thanks to Groundwork, I want to fix the environment because that also helps people to get better and be healthy.”

Ashante took in a breath.  “Man has done a lot of bad things to nature…and little by little, we’ve learned from our mistakes and we’re just now learning how to make it better.”  She looked around the room at the energetic mass of YCC and Groundwork youth gathering together for their morning work detail.  “I want to be a part of that.”