YCC workers honored with banquet
Big Lake Wildlife Refuge Manager Jeremy Bennett and Bio Technician Aaron Mize hosted a dinner for their summer Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) workers and their families on Thursday evening, Aug. 28, at the Manila Airport Center. They recognized the young people for their hard work during the summer program.
YCC is a summer employment program for young men and women offering them the opportunity to not only work but to learn about the development and maintenance of the natural resources.
Bennett welcomed everyone. He thanked Donnie Wagner for preparing the meal and recognized guests, Jonathan Windley and Keith Weaver, project leaders for Central Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge Complex including Big Lake, Cache River, Bald Knob and Wapanocca. Other guests included Manila School Superintendent Pam Castor and school board members, Jackie Hill, Steve Metheny, and Brandon Veach.
Bennett pointed out the value of the summer youth program.
"We were fortunate to receive the funding for the YCC summer program," Bennett said. "Years ago Big Lake had a youth program. These young people accomplished a lot. The program turned out even better than expected. The F&WL should be proud of this program. It has been me and Aaron for three and a half years. Going from two workers to eight made a big difference."
Youth workers included Zach Birmingham, Hunter Bryan, David Pasley, and Luke McLaughlin. The crew leader was Seth Fisher. In addition to the YCC crew, Bennett said they were fortunate to have an Arkansas State student, Zach Dunivan, intern for the summer.
Bennett and Mize presented each of the workers an appreciation gift. The workers shared a few of the highlights of the work they did during the summer.
A video, created by Mize, was shown. The video was created throughout the summer featuring several projects the young men worked with.
The work went from keeping the Refuge free of trash to banding and swapping ducks.
"They picked up a lot of trash, placed no littering signs around the Refuge, banded over 400 wood ducks, made new signs marking trails, created a trail to the Champion Tree, worked on an observation site and much more," Bennett said. "Their mark will always be here. Their projects will be here for a long time. What they accomplished is something to be proud of."
The young men expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to work at Big Lake. They all agreed they learned a lot from the experience.
Weaver closed the meeting expressing his sense of pride in the 548 refuges with 100 million acres of land for the benefit of wildlife, natural resources and the public.
"The YCC program is sometimes the first job for young men and women," he said. "They learn responsibility and teamwork and can take pride in seeing the outcome of their hard work and labor. I've been with the Fish and Wildlife Service for 25 years and I have to say this group has a great since of pride."
"When it was announced funding was available for the YCC program, Jeremy is the manager who stepped up and wanted to do that and was willing to take on the responsibility," Weaver said. "The two (Bennett and Mize) have a lot of work and responsibility here. They do a good job and the YCC helped. Hopefully, some of you may want to pursue a career in wildlife management. It is admirable work."