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Mike Felder Canal Community Story

The Timbrook Achievement Center (TAC) is a community-based detention alternative that serves at-risk youth in the Winchester, VA, and Frederick County geographical areas. Through a combination of education, community outreach, vocational, and life skills programs, we aim to provide youth with the greatest opportunity to move away from at-risk and into a successful and thriving adulthood. As a part of this daily programming, TAC often works with community partners to expose participating at-risk youth to a variety of educational opportunities. This summer, TAC youth met with C&O Canal Trust and park staff as a part of the Canal For All program to learn more about the C&O Canal National Park.

The TAC youth enjoyed their time while participating in the Canal For All program. One of the main missions of TAC is to provide community outreach opportunities for at-risk youth to encourage teenagers to give back to communities that give to them and promote a more positive image of themselves while participating. Upon arrival, the group listened to an introduction about the C&O Canal Trust, which gave the youth some insight into how national parks operate and what organizations do to support them. The kids were then divided into two groups. One group hiked onto the Billy Goat C trail and helped cut back invasive species and overgrowth, learning about the biology of the canal and some history along the way. Exposure to the park to this particular group of teenagers was very new for them. Most of them did not realize that this park is in our nation's capital's backyard, and this new experience opened their minds to a different way of seeing our community.

The other group of TAC teens stayed behind, with Center and Trust staff to touch up some park benches around the pavilion areas. Events like this give our youth the chance to fill community service hours that will help build their resume or consolidate their court requirements. Winchester, VA, is an older community with the average age of residents being 43, so not a lot of businesses and organizations cater to the younger population. It has become increasingly difficult for the youth in the local community to find stimuli that will create new experiences, mold their minds, and keep them out of trouble. Getting a taste of what the outdoors has to offer was just the beginning for them. While many of these teenagers may not venture into science or steward-like careers, the Canal For All program piqued their interest in exploring different places such as state & national parks, environments, and biomes, as well as various activities in the outdoors they weren’t aware of before.

For example, we have a young lady who was excited to tell me about her conversations with Park Ranger Sarah Brown. This particular teen was proud to see a woman in the park service and was impressed by Ranger Brown’s knowledge of the park and her story of how she became involved in the NPS. Although this young lady may not pursue a career as a park ranger, she was inspired by this one-time interaction with Ranger Brown and the C&O Canal Trust.

As an outdoor enthusiast myself, it’s been great to see the youth enjoy the program. As someone who spent my high school years around Winchester, I never got to experience the outdoors like this. I first became familiar with outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic when I began my foray into backpacking. Since then, I have backpacked across parts of the Appalachian Trail and sections of Shenandoah National Park. Had I been offered a similar type of program as Canal For All, I probably would’ve started having some of these experiences and gotten myself out of Winchester more often as a teenager.