RICHMOND -- The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps was awarded a $143,000 match grant from the U.S. Forest Service last week to employ Vermont youth in conservation projects. The grant was a part of the Obama administration's $6.7 million announcement to hire young people to work on public lands nationwide.

The VYCC came up with over $93,000 with the help of the Green Mountain National Forest, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the White River Partnership, to match with the $50,000 USFS grant. Using those funds, the VYCC is hiring two crews of eight individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 to complete riparian plantings, wetland restoration, trail restoration, invasive species management and more.

USFS staff and project partners will serve as mentors for the crews and an additional four youth that will work as interns on the projects taking place across the state between this year and next. Nearly 200 projects will take place over two years between Bennington to Washington counties for a total of 5,600 hours of total hands-on work.

"We are really excited about these projects," said VYCC founding president Thomas Hark. "There is a huge backlog of watershed work across the state that I'm glad we will be able to start getting to."

Four projects are planned for Bennington this year, which will start in July. One project will take place in the national forest in Bennington County. Archaeologist David Lacy of the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest Service will be working with youth to complete heritage work and a historical assessment. The other three planned projects are focused on water quality improvement in the Battenkill and Walloomsac watersheds.

VYCC operations chief Keegan Tierney said the watershed restoration projects in Bennington are twofold: Focusing on small plant and tree planting and removal of debris. "Hurricane Irene brought down a lot of man-made debris ... we will be using a mechanized winch to pull out some (heavier things)."

River wall reinforcements and debris removal will take place in July and August, when water levels are lowest. Tree planting is the largest project, which will start in September to help stabilize the soil around the Battenkill River.

Hark said he is excited to receive the grant because it will help sustain their annual funds, and teach young people while at the same time putting them to work. "We cut our teeth with the help of the Bennington community, and very happy to be doing work down there again," he said.

The VYCC was originally formed in Bennington with the help of the Bennington County Industrial Corporation to make improvements on the Walloomsac River in the late 1980s.

For youth who wish to apply to be a crew leader or corps member with the VYCC, visit http://www.vycc.org/apply/.

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg