The Trinity River Crew was launched by Trinity Park Conservancy and Greenspace Dallas in 2021. Courtesy of the Trinity River Crew.

June 27, 2024

Teens can partake in environmental restoration projects around the Dallas area, while also earning a paycheck. 

Since 2021, the Trinity River Crew has provided youth with hands-on environmental work experience over the summer break.

The seven-week paid program is a collaboration between Trinity Park Conservancy and Greenspace Dallas said Jimena Vivanco, Conservation Manager of the Trinity Park Conservancy. 

The combination of education and summer employment sets the Trinity River Crew apart from many other summer programs in the Dallas area, she said.

With the Trinity Park Conservancy’s river focus and the volunteer work model of Greenspace Dallas (then Groundwork Dallas), the partnership was a natural fit, Vivanco said.

“[The two nonpro came together really, in order to submit a Conservation Wrangler program to Texan by Nature,” said Vivanco, explaining how the Trinity River Crew came about.  


The Trinity River Crew get hands-on training for green jobs while earning a paycheck. Courtesy of the Trinity River Crew.

Since launching three years ago, the program has thrived, while actively recruiting youth from West and South Dallas schools. 

Recruitment in these areas is intentional, according to Vivanco. The program is aimed at youth in low-income and underserved served neighborhoods along the Trinity River corridor. While high school students from other cities can apply to the program, Dallas students are the primary targeted demographic.

“It was really designed to uplift and create economic mobility within our underserved youth, by giving them the opportunity to make money in the summer,” she said.

However, Vivanco highlighted the program's dual purpose — connecting teens to nature. 

Since working on a bigger project — Harold Simmons Park — the Trinity Park Conservancy has been out in the community inquiring about why people do not visit green spaces near them, and why children are not being enrolled in summer programs. 

There were a lot of barriers recognized, Vivanco said. Transportation, costs of joining these programs, etc., were all reasons listed, as well as financial insecurity. 

“Because of the demographic that we are trying to reach, truly it’s better economically for them and their families, for the kids to be working instead of doing free programming,” Vivanco explained. 

The program’s work model allows the needs of the youth in the program to be met, by offering transportation and payment. This program also exposed many of these students to their first green jobs here in the Dallas area. 


The Trinity River Crew programs can be, as Vivanco described, placed into three buckets. 

The first bucket is conservation projects. 

“We meet with different park entities or partner organizations that are taking care of a space, and we work with them and say ‘what is the need that you have to make this space more ecologically sound?’” said Vivanco. 

Within this pillar of the program, the restoration of specific green spaces is a core component. These restoration projects range from trash removal, plant propagation, trail building, bird boxes, bee hotels and more. 

This is “hands-on work, manual labor kind of stuff,” Vivanco said. 

Typically, there is a shortage of volunteers performing hard labor tasks in natural areas during the summer, she explained.  

“We fill a niche that is lost during the summer in a lot of these spaces.”

Trinity River Crew staff take water samples. Courtesy of the Trinity River Crew. 

The second bucket of the Trinity River Crew is data collection. 

“We are teaching these students how to collect data on a variety of different surveys to help us determine the environmental quality of an area,” she said. 

With these data surveys, there is a strong focus on the water. Students conduct macro invertible biological surveys of the water, as well as plant surveys for the environment surrounding the river. 

By the end of the program, students are skilled in both conducting surveys and coming up with educated conclusions on data. 

The final bucket is education. 

“We look at it almost like a traditional classroom setting," said Vivanco. "There are times in a week where we’re sitting down and having a long honest conversation about the Trinity River from different points of view.”

In this component of the program, participants look at the river in the context of history, and water conservation issues in North Texas. The program also looks at conservation through a social lens as well as an ecological one. 

“A lot of the kids that are coming from our underserved areas are coming from communities that are likely being affected by environmental injustices,” she said. 


Applications open in March for summer 2025. Courtesy of the Trinity River Crew. 

By becoming part of the Trinity River Crew, kids can learn not only restoration but also gain a better understand their environment and how their Dallas community as a whole is impacted. 

Not only does the Trinity River Crew build experience during the summer, but some youth are impacted long after the program. 

“The things that tell me that this is an impactful program and means a lot, are the anecdotal stories that come from the kids,” Vivanco said. “The growth that I see in them is amazing.” 


• Applications will be open for the Trinity River Crew's summer 2025 season in early March. See the Trinity River Crew website for more info.

• In 2023, Tandy Hills Natural Area in Fort Worth launched a summer internship program for college students. Contact [email protected] for info about Summer 2025.

Do you know of other environmental internships for high school and college students in DFW? Email [email protected].


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