Youth Environmental  Leadership Experience

Canoeing with in the Youth Environmental Leadership Experience programThe Dane County Youth Environmental Leadership Experience engages high school students throughout the school year in monthly outdoor recreation and stewardship activities. In addition, the program offers a seven-week summer internship where students explore environmental issues through a series of hands-on education and service activities in Dane County Parks with environmental professionals and community leaders.

Youth who participate in this program will have unique opportunities to build leadership and job skills, learn about the environment through field experiences, make new friends, participate in outdoor adventures, and undertake community stewardship projects.

Student Benefits:

Student Requirements for school year programming:

Contact Micah Kloppenburg for additional information.

Applications for the 2020 summer internship are closed, check back in April for 2021 applications.

Program Overview    Application Form 


2019 Summer Internship

The summer of 2019, the Dane County Land & Water Resources Department piloted the Youth Environmental Leadership Experience with an awesome team of seven MMSD high school students. Students spent seven weeks and over 60 hours exploring our connections to the natural world in six Dane County Parks and with nine community partners. They gained experience with stream monitoring, trapping small mammals, canoeing, and gained a better awareness of  how culture and nature intersect.

Students’ experiences and unique voice were captured in video blogs described and linked below: 

Week 2 – Community Connections: Markets and Museums (YouTube)
We visited the Wednesday Dane County Farmers’ Market to learn more about how food connects us to the land and to culture. Teens checked out the various farm stands, chatted up the farmers, and tried a sampling of the in-season goods. We then made our way over to the Madison Children’s Museum for a behind-the-scenes sustainability tour. Following the tour we jumped in to get some on-the-ground experience as environmental educators, we lead a pollinator seed ball workshop and staffed the baby chick corral for kiddos who came up to the rooftop gardens.

Week 3 - Bike Tour with DreamBikes (YouTube)
We explored how transportation can be an easy connector to the natural world and to our community by teaming up with Dream Bikes. Dream Bikes gave us a tour of their shop and led us through a simple workshop on bike fit, safety, and mechanics. We then headed out on borrowed bikes and into the 95-degree heat to ride 8+ miles of Dane County bike trails to the Lussier Family Heritage Center at Lake Farm Park.

Week 4: Day 1 - Stream Monitoring (YouTube)
We left the urban confines of Madison and made our way out to Donald County Park where we met up with Wade Moder of the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association. Wade gave us an intro to how urban and rural land use can affect water health and the riparian ecosystem before we (literally) got our feet wet conducting some stream monitoring. Wade got us suited up in waders and we hiked our way into the water to collect data on transparency, dissolved oxygen content, stream flow, and macroinvertebrates.

Week 4: Day 2 – Canoeing (YouTube)
Following our day learning about healthy lakes and streams we decided to put our new knowledge to the test by exploring the Yahara River by canoe. Rutabaga staff trained us up on the perfect paddling form and emphasized that the key to comfortable and confident paddling is actually all teamwork and boat communication. Our new skills were put to the test by some extremely windy conditions. Nevertheless, we persevered in getting out and about on the water and had a look at water quality from the paddlers’ perspective.

Week 5: Rock Climbing at Boulders (YouTube)
We headed over to Boulders Climbing Gym to challenge ourselves to a day of rock climbing  in preparation for a later experience in arborist education and tree climbing at Token Creek County Park (which, sadly, had to be cancelled). Chip, our staff guide at Boulders, gave us the lowdown on how to communicate between climbing partners and how to safely use harnesses, ropes, and belay equipment.

Week 6: Small Mammal Trapping with DNR (YouTube)
After a day learning about small mammals at the Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo we made our way just past Brigham County Park and onto an adjacent private property for some small mammal field work with DNR Conservation Biologist and Zoologist Rich Staffen. Voles, moles, and mice are important players in our native WI woodlands and prairies; their collective health serves as a great indicator as to the health of the wider plant and animal community.