Last summer, four students from NC State’s Department of Forestry & Environmental Resources worked with the NC Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC).  Recently their stories were shared on NC State’s College of Natural Resources website. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing their stories with you to give you an in-depth look at their experiences.  Here is Maria Polizzi’s story, an Environmental Technology and Management Student.

Have you ever wanted to know what living without the luxuries of modern technology, architecture, and plumbing would be like? This summer I got to experience living and working outside in a few of the beautiful state parks of North Carolina. That includes, yes, the bugs, heat, humidity and rain; however, it was a once in a lifetime experience to live out in the elements for seven weeks and truly be able to understand many of the things we take for granted.

Stationed in the coastal region, my crew worked with Carolina Beach State Park, Fort Fisher, and Cliffs of the Neuse. Our projects included constructing fences, mulching trails, rebuilding a dilapidated boardwalk staircase, installing a handicap access ramp for picnic tables, clearing brush and trimming along roadsides. Our crew consisted of two crew leaders and eight Corps members, who lived and worked together for the duration of our trip. During the day we worked to complete whatever assignments our project sponsors selected for us, and in the evenings we prepared meals, made fires, baked bread, and maintained camp.

This position was unique because it offered not only hands-on work experience but also applicable life-skills. We cooked for ourselves every day over a camp stove or fire. Each meal required planning as the food had to last throughout the week with only a small cooler and bins for storage. Instead of buying sandwich bread at the store we baked our own to save money and prevent it from going bad. Conserving water was taken to a whole new level, as nobody wanted to carry the 35 lb. jugs back to camp after refilling.

The most noticeable adjustment, however, was that when it rained, everything got wet. It is surprisingly easy to forget what a little rainstorm will do if you’re not inside. Water somehow gets into everything, and on a regular basis we would wake up to put on soggy clothes from the line, throw away food that had gone bad due to water damage, or fall asleep on a slightly soggy sleeping bag. These storms may have put a damper on our day in more ways than one; however, they did make us appreciate clear skies and how they made everything seem better.

The work was hard and the sun was hot, but the job was full of fantastic moments, great people, endless lessons learned, and a sense of pride in our accomplishments. It was an amazing feeling to see park visitors using what we had worked on. The project sponsors were also extremely supportive and appreciative, which made the job more enjoyable. Our crew worked at a surprising speed and often had the problem of running out of projects instead of the other way around. Overall, I gained much from being a part of this experience; even more importantly, however, I was able to give back and do something to improve our state and its natural habitats.