After hiking up a steep Ojai trail in 90-degree heat this October, a group of Clark Magnet High School Students came upon abandoned camps where illegal marijuana growers lived and cultivated plants grown with an excess of illegal chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

This was all part of the plan. The student group, led by Clark teacher Dominque Evans-Bye, had compiled research on the harmful effects of marijuana grown illegally to compete in the nationwide Lexus Eco Challenge.

As the students made their way to the camps, they hiked behind three armed officers who led the way by cutting through brush that blocked their path.

The operations had already been busted. Now, all that remained were broken beer bottles, a cell phone and an incomplete deck of playing cards.

“All the stuff they used to pass time when they’re out there,” said senior Linda Yousefian.

But the students were more disheartened to find liquid fertilizers spilled onto a stream bed, and containers of DDT pesticides used to keep local animals from dining on the plants.

“I didn’t think it’d be so harmful to the environment,” Yousefian said.

For Evans-Bye, that was the project’s major lesson. When it comes to marijuana plants, she said, they are often perceived as harmless herbs.

“Every year I hear the kids say, ‘Marijuana is a natural herb. It’s good for you.’ They don’t realize that buy buying marijuana they’re promoting the destruction of the environment,” she said.

Since the seven-member team took home the first prize of the three-part challenge, they now have a shot at winning $30,000 more by taking their findings and applying them on a global scale.

Now that the young people are sharing the results of the project, Evans-Bye hopes it change’s views of the drug among young people.

It has already gained in popularity among some groups. The Drug Free America Foundation posted the project on their website and the team was invited to present their findings in Miami.

“If we can just convince them it’s best not to start, it’ll help the environment and the society,” she said.

-- Kelly Corrigan, Times Community News

Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan