Editor's note: The Student Conservation Association exists to help nurture and immerse today's younger generations in places such as national parks and national forests. Eli Livezey discovered that working in the field with the SCA taught him the value of hard work, and how it can make a difference in your life. This is his story.
I had two job offers the summer before my junior year of high school. I chose the job that came with new boots.
The job was with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), working on a trail crew in Washington, D.C. Since then, I have been part of three additional SCA crews in D.C., Maryland and South Dakota. During all four crews, I wore the same pair of boots. They've changed since I got them, and I've changed too.
When I first got my Timberland boots, they had smooth brown leather, crisp laces, and a new shoe smell. The tread was sharp, the sole was stiff. The fit was snug and supportive.
I wore my boots building boardwalks in D.C.'s Rock Creek Park, installing log steps in Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland, and clearing invasive species at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown.
At Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, I installed sign posts to mark trails in bison-filled prairies. We worked in pairs installing just one or two posts a day, but on our last day my partner and I got in to a rhythm and finished four posts. I kicked the final post to make sure it was sturdy and fell back on the ground. It was like kicking a brick wall.
At school, I never felt like my hard work translated into anything tangible. Because I have learning disabilities, school work has always been difficult for me and my grades have not always reflected how hard I worked or what I know. At SCA, it was different. Hard work created something. Hard work made a difference. I've since applied that lesson to my classwork and now my best grades are in my toughest classes.
I figure I have hiked more than 300 miles in my boots. Now they're stretched and worn. The laces have frayed. The soles have lost their traction.
I've changed too. I've grown taller. My mind has stretched and developed. My SCA experiences have made me a more confident, resilient, imaginative individual with a strong drive for quality and discovery. I've gained a strong work ethic and a passion for the environment.
I just started work on the Old Faithful crew in D.C. for SCA veterans and crew leaders, and they tell me I'll be getting a new pair of boots.
I think this time I'll get one size up.