Could the pandemic normalize the gap year—and help save public lands? New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs were designed to provide wages, and to remake society. | Photo courtesy of Detroit News /AP Melinda Espinoza was helping to clear out a drainage ditch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few months ago when she had a revelation. The 18-year-old had lived in the city her entire life without ever noticing that just behind its historic downtown was something akin to a jungle. She gets that her example is funny—who has an epiphany about a drainage ditch ?—but the gap year Espinoza has taken due to COVID-19 has been marked by similarly strange discoveries about a place she thought she knew intimately. Although she originally planned to attend San Diego University this year, Espinoza didn’t want to relive the isolation and boredom that characterized the end of her high school experience. Rather than be confined to a dorm room, she deferred and enrolled in a group called YouthWorks, an AmeriCorps service program that has her performing physical labor, mostly in public and wild lands. Instead of studying sports psychology, she now has a 9-to-5 job removing invasive species and […]


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