Mary Ellen's Blog: Outdoors for All


Originally published on the Huffington Post 

On September 30th, just 61 days from now, one of the most important funding streams supporting the conservation of our public lands and waters is set to expire.

Created by an Act of Congress in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is critical to the maintenance of our parks and the protection of outdoor recreation access. LWCF has provided funds to nearly every state and every county in the country for the creation of parks, the protection of natural treasures and the expansion of outdoor recreational opportunities. There's a good chance that your local playground, public park, or community ice rink benefited from LWCF.

Congress established the LWCF as a way to do something positive for the environment with revenue from oil and gas drilling. The idea was to protect natural places for all Americans as a counterbalance to the depletion of natural resources. Now, unless Congress reauthorizes the fund, our public lands and waters are at risk of falling even further into disrepair. Every year, oil and gas companies pay $900 million dollars to the federal government, but most of this money does not go towards conservation. Since 1987, the average annual appropriation for the LWCF has been only $40 million.

Protecting public lands is at the heart of the Corps movement. The Civilian Conservation Corps, the predecessor to today's Corps, was created during the Great Depression as a way to put millions of young men to work constructing new parks, planting billions of trees, and restoring our existing public lands infrastructure. Modern Corps continue this legacy; on any given day, you can see Corps hard at work building trails and restoring habitats in our national, state and local parks. The work for many LWCF-supported public lands maintenance and improvement projects has been carried out by Corpsmembers. If LWCF is allowed to expire, Corps could suffer from decreased project funding, but, more importantly, we all could suffer from reduced outdoor recreation access.

The great outdoors should be available to all, but many Americans, especially those living in urban areas, need parks and recreational facilities in order to get outside. Even people who are surrounded by nature in more rural communities benefit from well-maintained trails and waterways free of pollutants and invasive species. Access to the outdoors should be a right, not a privilege. But we need funding - like the LWCF - and dedicated individuals - like those involved in the Corps movement - to protect this right by maintaining our public lands and waters.

This summer, The Corps Network introduced Eli the Elk. Similar to how Smokey Bear speaks about the dangers of forest fires, and Woodsy Owl reminds people to "Lend a hand - care for the land," Eli is traveling around the country as a paper cutout to highlight the importance of America's treasured public lands, and the federal funding that supports conservation, through his slogan "Conserve today for access tomorrow!" If you agree with Eli's message, follow him on Twitter to show your support. The week of July 27th - 31st is Eli's first social media campaign; be sure to get online and use the hashtags #EliElk and #outdoors4all to help him spread his important message to as many people as possible. If you plan to be outside soon, print out a copy of Eli and take him with you. Snap a picture with him and share it on Twitter @ElitheElk. Every new person engaged in the campaign helps. You can also help protect the outdoors by signing the Land and Water Conservation Fund's petition to Congress to reauthorize the LWCF.

This is a very important time for public lands conservation. We need to take action now.

Adaptation: Emergency drought funding gives Calif.'s Conservation Corps a chance to cut forest fire risks

- "A field team of the CCC ponders what they should cut next"


The Article was originally published by: E&E Publishing LLC

The California Conservation Corps' Website


The whine of chain saws fills Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, located just a few miles north of Santa Cruz, Calif., a beach town best known for its surfing. From atop the wooden observation deck, perched on the rare and unique Santa Cruz sandhills -- an area of the park that 10 million years ago was part of the Pacific Ocean -- two dozen California Conservation Corps (CCC) members wearing brightly colored hard hats can be seen hacking away at everything green down in the forest below.

"This type of flora and fauna is fire-dependent -- this sandhill chaparral habitat needs bare sand," said Tim Reilly, an environmental scientist with the Santa Cruz district of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. "It's a very rare habitat -- probably the most rare in California -- and it's a challenge to know what type of fire we need to use to manage it."

If left unattended, about once every 85 years, a natural fire cycle would restore the Santa Cruz sandhills to its sandy, ideal state. But as protected public lands, the area is now under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Parks and Recreation and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. Due to a lack of manpower, the agencies had been taking a mostly hands-off approach.

"We have a huge fuel load here," Reilly said, gesturing around him at the Douglas firs and oak trees rising out of the brush-covered landscape. "Looking around it made us nervous."

In 2010, the agencies collaborated to begin doing prescriptive burns, or controlled burns, for 50 acres of the sandhills. Five years later, they've only managed to clear 20.

For the next three months, Parks and Recreation and Cal Fire will have the manpower available to them to work on this project and many more in the region's forests, thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) March 2014 emergency drought relief funding package that allocated $687.4 million to communities facing water, food and housing assistance. Part of that money was given to the CCC.

"This freed up money to perform fire fuel reduction work," said Chad Harris, a CCC crew leader and supervisor of the Big Basin Redwoods State Park tent camp located a few miles away that is providing the CCC manpower.

The art of keeping fires local

Established in 1976 by Brown during his first term in office, the CCC is a state agency that hires young Californians between the ages of 18 and 25 to do natural resource work on public lands, such as plant trees, construct trails, install fences, and respond to natural disasters like fires and floods.

The emergency drought funding, which the CCC will have access to through June 2016, has allowed the state agency to create a six-month, 36-member residential tent camp crew dedicated to fire fuel debris reduction. Big Basin is the tent camp's third location. Previously, the camp was set up at Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino County and then Lake Camanche in Calaveras County. The long-term housing situation not only allows CCC members to live near the area they're tasked with working on, but also gives partner agencies ample time to use the crews for big projects.

"It helps to jump-start what we can do," said Martha Diepenbrock, director of external affairs for the CCC. "For our partners, these are funded resources that can be applied to high-priority projects."

Drought funding has also paid for an additional five crews across the state that are dedicated to water conservation projects on both public and private lands. Corps are trained to do things like turf removal, replace outdoor irrigation systems, and install items like low-flow toilets and water fixtures.

The idea behind the fire hazard reduction camps is to prevent future fires from raging out of control.

"We can reduce the fire load to keep fires local if they do break out or prevent them from taking an entire hillside," Harris said. "We can help keep the land accessible for fire vehicles, as well."

Reducing the fire load is especially important in California, where record drought has created tinderbox conditions in the state's public and private lands alike. Across the state, forest officials recently reported that at least 12 million drought-weakened trees have died, mostly in the southern and central parts of the state, but tree death seems to be spreading north as the drought lingers.

Climate change poses increasing challenges to forests in the Golden State, including a forecast increase in the number of fires, insects and disease. Furthermore, a study out last week finds wildfires are occurring more often at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, being driven by both climate change and some forest management practices. According to Cal Fire, some of the best adaptation strategies include forest thinning and fuels reduction in order to make forests more resistant to wildfires and to reestablish ecosystem resilience to natural cycles of fire and other events.

Park Ranger Emily Bertram, who is stationed at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, said the drought has taken a toll on the state's oldest state park, which contains 10,800 acres of old-growth forest and is home to the largest contiguous population of ancient coastal redwoods south of San Francisco.

'We're a tinderbox'

"We've seen record numbers of trees falling down, unassociated with any weather event," Bertram said. "We think it's from generalized stress because of the drought. We're a tinderbox."

Big Basin hasn't been touched by wildfire, but in 2008, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) declared a state of emergency for Santa Cruz County when the Summit fire burned 4,270 acres, resulting in the evacuation of 1,400 homes and costing taxpayers more than $16 million. In May 2014, a wildfire scorched a building and 5 acres near Mount Madonna before two helicopters were able to put it out.

But as conditions continue to deteriorate because of the record drought, fire is a persistent fear in Santa Cruz and beyond. As of yesterday, nine wildfires were blazing in California, according to Cal Fire, including the 6,900-acre Wragg fire, which broke out near Lake Berryessa in Napa and Solano counties and has destroyed one structure and is threatening 150 more. On Saturday, the Lowell fire broke out in Nevada County and has burned 1,700 acres and is 20 percent contained. According to the National Interagency Fire Center's summer wildfire potential outlook issued July 1, in Northern California, long-term drought conditions are "likely to lead to a condition where above normal fire activity is possible, even though the forecasted weather conditions indicate a continued somewhat frequent moisture input."

"Throughout the park, vegetation grows and it's a constant struggle to have enough resources," said Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz District services manager for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. "This is a focused group of skilled labor that can provide fire safety where really it's been needed for the last 10 years."

For Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency John Laird, the use of CCC to do fire load reduction work with the help and blessing of both the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as Cal Fire is an example of state agency collaboration at its finest.

"I know I'm supposed to love all my children equally," he said, laughing, "but I'm glad to see them getting along."

For the corps members, who will be stationed at the tent camp in Big Basin until mid-October, working 10-hour days clearing parts of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park -- but also helping the parks department with a dozen other projects -- it's a way to receive job training, as well as make some money.

Brian Hougland, a 28-year-old CCC member, seemed cheerful, despite being covered in a layer of sweat and dirt. Standing in the midday sun, Hougland said the crew uses "anything to get the job done," including but not limited to axes, chain saws, rakes and pitchforks. Currently, the CCC crew is clearing 10 acres of forestland to about knee height so that it can be burned in a controlled manner.

A California resident since 2000, Hougland said he feels like the CCC's work was crucially important in trying to temper the effects of the wildfire season California is certain to experience. And the drought, he said, isn't helping.

"The drought turns everything into kindling -- even the trees that look healthy and green on the outside, they're dry inside," he said. "I like to say we're being the bodyguards for the forest."

Article Written By Brittany Patterson

Eli the Elk Social Media Action Week!

Campaign Runs July - September 2015

Help launch Eli the Elk's social media campaign!

Eli the Elk was created by The Corps Network in June 2015. He is an advocate for the conservation of America’s public lands and the conservation funding that protects them. His mission is to spread the word that we must “Conserve today for access tomorrow!” Eli wants all of us, and our federal government, to be involved in protecting the outdoors for future generations to enjoy.

How Can I Help?
Help spread the word about Eli on social media. Use the resources below, including sample tweets and shareable images. You can also choose to print a copy of Eli and take a photo with him (outdoors, of course!) to share on social media. Be sure to follow Eli on Twitter @ElitheElk.





  • I stand with #EliElk to support the protection of public lands thru conservation funding so there can be #outdoors4all
  • I'm enjoying this public space w/ #EliElk. Fund conservation so there can be #outdoors4all @USDA @forestservice @TheCorpsNetwork
  • I support #EliElk and his mission to protect the #outdoors4all w/ @USDA @forestservice @TheCorpsNetwork
  • #EliElk and I couldn't enjoy this public space w/o conservation funding #outdoors4all @USDA @forestservice @TheCorpsNetwork
  • #LWCF provides access #outdoors4all #EliElk @USDA @forestservice
  • Get outside with #EliElk and show your support for #LWCF @USDA @forestservice #outdoors4all
  • Get outside with #EliElk and show your support for conservation funding @USDA @forestervice #outdoors4all 
  • I'm outside with my #corps and #EliElk. Without conservation funding we lose #outdoors4all @USDA @forestservice @TheCorpsNetwork 


  • I stand with #EliElk to protect #outdoors4all @ElitheElk @forestservice @USDA
  • My Corps is protecting XYZ state park with #EliElk. Help us protect #outdoors4all @forestservice @USDA @ElitheElk
  • I’m hiking with #EliElk at XYZ national park! @forestservice @USDA help me + @ElitheElk protect #outdoors4all
  • Like this post if you stand w/ me and #EliElk in support of protecting #outdoors4all @forestservice @USDA
  • I support #EliElk and his mission to protect #outdoors4all w/ @forestservice @USDA @TheCorpsNetwork @ElitheElk 


*Click the images below for full-size versions

Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia Awarded Grant for Flight 93 National Memorial Project

This article was originally published by The Register-Herald.

-Citzens Conservation Corps of West Virginia's Website


Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia has been awarded $48,000 in federal funds to provide educational and work opportunities to the youth through the Maintain Cultural Landscapes and Park Structures project at the Flight 93 Memorial in Stonycreek Township, Pa. 

According to a media release from CCCWV, five youth and one experienced supervisor will begin work on June 29 to maintain natural and cultural landscapes, assist with curatorial duties, assist with completion of deferred maintenance, repair replace and improve the condition of buildings and grounds features.

Those corps members, who will work for 10 weeks, will also work directly with and assist National Parks Service staff to gain experience and training by providing improvements to the memorial. The corps members will add native plants and remove invasive plant species from the property, prune, paint and perform light carpentry and fence repair.

CCCWV is designated a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps member and is a national cooperative agreement holder with the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service, which has an emphasis on youth engagement and development. 

The Beckley-based non-profit is also involved in the Prince William Forest HOPE (Hands-On Preservation Experience) Project in Triangle, Va., where four youth began work with a supervisor June 1. That group is rehabilitating and repairing historic cabins and chimneys at Prince William Forest Park.

Article written by: Pamela Pritt

Mary Ellen's Blog: TCN on the Map

Less than two weeks ago, I sat in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just off the West Wing of the White House, listening to the stories of four inspiring young adults from member programs of The Corps Network. There was Ray Santos, a Youth Opportunity AmeriCorps Crew Leader from American YouthWorks (AYW) in Texas, who uses his own experience as a formerly court-involved AYW Corpsmember to lead formerly-incarcerated and at-risk Corpsmembers. There was Kenesha Jackson, a young mother who, with the help of Greater Miami Service Corps, reimagined her future and enrolled in college. We heard from Aisha Dorn, a Civic Works alumna who used knowledge she gained during her term of service to start her own brownfield remediation company in Baltimore, MD. And there was Katherine Martinez, a young woman who experienced a boost in self-confidence and became a strong leader while developing tangible job skills through Curlew Job Corps’ welding program.

These four young adults were The Corps Network’s representatives at a White House Community Leaders Briefing on the topic of Corps and the role national service can play in creating opportunities for diverse young people. I applaud Ray, Kenesha, Aisha and Katherine for their willingness and courage to share their stories of service and transformation, especially in front of top officials from the White House, the EPA, and the Departments of Labor, Energy, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development.  They were an excellent representation of the thousands of extraordinary young people enrolled in the 100+ programs of The Corps Network. There are many Corpsmembers all across the country who, like the four individuals who spoke at the White House, are transforming their communities while also transforming their own lives.

Those of us in the Corps community have heard similar personal stories to those that were shared at the White House. We know from firsthand experience how service in a Corps can help a young person get on the right track, plan for the future and develop into a successful, community-conscious adult. What was exciting about this month was that through the White House briefing, as well as through The Corps Network’s Annual Day of Service, the transformative power of Corps was shared with people outside of the Corps world who previously might not have ever heard of The Corps Network or Service and Conservation Corps.

At the White House briefing, The Corps Network was introduced to important Obama administration officials, like Hallie Schneir, Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls; and Roy L. Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity. At The Day of Service, The Corps Network gained recognition in the nation’s capital through high-visibility service projects at four DC-area National Park Service sites. I am proud to say that in our second year of hosting the Day of Service we were able to attract nearly double the volunteers, double the sponsors, and double the number of participating Corps.

The Corps Network is on the map. I feel confident that now, more than any other time during my tenure with The Corps Network, Corps are seen by a wide range of people as a tested and trusted model for improving our communities, protecting the environment, and creating opportunities for diverse young people. We’re in a good place to maintain this trend and expand awareness. I know that Corps will only continue to impress as they go about their daily business of making the world a better place. 


OYSI Alumni Hired by U.S. Forest Service

Taken From,

Original Link:


Forest Service crew preps for wildfire season


"So which hill are we going up?” U.S. Forest Service firefighter Tony Young asked with a wry smile at the base of a short but punishingly steep hill off of Ruby Road Tuesday morning.

Jorge Amaya, who has been the superintendent for the Nogales-based 10-man squad for about eight years, nodded toward the obvious answer.

Wearing their signature fire-resistant green pants and yellow shirts and weighed down by heavy packs, hand tools and a saw, Amaya’s firefighters then trudged up to the summit where they had an informal discussion of what they would do if a blaze was racing up behind them.

Referring to the fire shelters that all wildland firefighters are required to carry, Amaya asked the crew where they would put their feet, “If we had to deploy, God forbid.”

“You want your feet toward the fire,” Young, a 22-year-old Douglas native, answered correctly.

With fire season just around the corner, Amaya and his crew are putting in hours of physical training and classroom learning to prepare themselves for another challenging half-year of work.

In wildland firefighting, deployments of two weeks or more are common and days on the fireline can exceed fourteen hours, meaning that firefighters need to be mentally and physically prepared for the taxing work. Including overtime, some wildland crews can put in well over 2,000 hours in a single season.

This crew put in just shy of 1,000 hours of overtime last season, several members said.

When paired with another 10-man squad based in Douglas, the 20-man team is the only USFS wildland hand crew in the Coronado National Forest (CNF), which includes Santa Cruz County, Amaya said.

Hand crews work to extinguish wildfires by digging fireline, which are strips or trenches of ground cleared of all flammable material, around blazes to control their spread.

Through late June or early July, the two squads are “committed” to the CNF, meaning they will stay in the area and be available for regional blazes, Amaya said. However, once monsoon rains come the crew is freed up to respond to fires across the West. Last year they went as far as Oregon and Washington, crew members said.

Among the more prominent local fires the crew has responded to in recent years are the 68,000-acre Murphy fire west of Interstate 19 in 2011, the cross-border Bull fire that same year, and the 2013 Soldier Basin Fire, which burned more than 10,000 acres five miles east of Nogales.

The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting a normal fire season in May for Southern Arizona and an above-normal season for southwest Arizona in June.

Spare time

When they’re waiting for fires, the crew does a lot of trail maintenance and range work in the county. Amaya said firefighters will conduct trail repair near Peña Blanca Lake in coming weeks.


Some of the crewmembers are locals, but most come from other parts of Arizona and out of state. The majority are in their 20s and are seasonal employees of the USFS.

Ben Como, a 20-year-old Phoenix native and Glendale Community College student, is starting his first year in fire with the crew. Earlier on Tuesday he successfully completed the so-called pack test, a prerequisite in which would-be employees must hike three miles with a 45-pound weighted vest in under 45 minutes.

Como, who finished in just under 43 minutes, said he first heard about working in wildfire while recently working with the Conservation Corps.

“As soon as I heard about it I started applying,” he said, adding that it was the “physical challenge” and time outdoors that drew him.

For Alex Starr, a 26-year-old Northern California native back for his second season with the crew, it was a change of scenery that made Nogales more appealing than the job he was offered in the Idaho panhandle.

“It’s just a completely different landscape than I’m used to,” he said, adding there’s also “good Mexican food down here.”

On the few days off he and his fellow firefighters get to enjoy between fires, Starr, who splits a cheap rental house in the county with crew member and Austin native Aaron “Mijo” Lopez, said he enjoys Nogales’ downtown area and the cultural quirks of being on the border.

“That’s why I’m back,” he said.

‘All a family’

Michael “Booster” Bustamante, 34, is one of the handful of locals on the crew. This is his second season with Amaya and he said the good pay during the summer and time off in the winter have been great for him and his family.

Bustamante said he’s able to support his wife and three kids with the pay, which he supplements with occasional work in the off-season, and getting the winter holidays off makes up for being away so much the other half of the year.

“It’s worth it,” he added. “You come back, get a good paycheck and get ready for the next fire.”

Entry-level firefighters can earn in excess of $40,000 during a heavy season.

Even when he’s on fires away from home, Bustamante said, the company of his fellow firefighters isn’t half bad.

“Right now, it’s all a family,” he said of his crew.

(Photo above by Murphy Woodhouse: Alex Starr, a sawyer with a Nogales-based wildfire crew, marches up a hill off of Ruby Road. His roommate Aaron “Mijo” Lopez is just behind him.)

Author: Murphy Woodhouse, Nogales International 

Summer Jobs Program at Conservation Corps North Bay Helps Youth and the Environment

Taken from,

Orginal Link:

Summer Jobs Program at Conservation Youth Corps North Bay Helps Youth and the Environment

Armed with a hoe, Marques Mingus walked through a field in the flood protection area south of Napa searching for such vegetative nasties as the yellow starthistle.

The 18-year-old is a summertime invasive plant battler. A few quick hacks sent a thistle flying to the ground and removed much of its root.

“I want to know if the people who live here will actually see a difference,” he said, looking at the homes of an adjacent neighborhood.

His newly trained eyes see a big difference – several acres with much less yellow starthistle, Harding grass and curly dock. No longer choked with plants belonging to other parts of the world, this patch of seasonal wetlands has room for California native plants such as creeping wild rye to recover.

Mingus is part of the nine-member Napa Youth Ecology Corps, a second-year job training program spearheaded by the Napa-Lake Workforce Investment Board. These young adults ages 18 to 24 don green hard hats, then help Napa County’s environment and themselves.

Napa County and California as a whole have long been under siege from invasive species, be they plants, insects, mammals or fish. Invaders came with Spanish grain shipments in the 1700s. Today, they arrive in the state on ships and cars and a myriad of other ways.

The 800-acre flood project area bounded by the Napa River and Highway 29 south of Napa has been hard hit. Invasive plants such as Harding grass outgrow the natives, bringing about more consequences than just a different look.

“The native grasses produce better habitat for wildlife and insects,” said Shaun Horne of the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. “Harding grass isn’t necessarily a food source for some of the native insects.”

Battling invasive species during the heat of the day and helping the environment is hard work. But it has payoffs for the Youth Ecology Corps members.

For one thing, they have a summer job that pays $9 an hour. They work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for eight weeks, on this particular day under Horne’s supervision.

Mingus wants to be a cook and hopes to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York. For now, he’s glad to be part of the Corps.

“Just to get some general work experience and keep me busy during the summer,” Mingus said.

As a bonus, he’s learning about the natural world. He’s taken out weeds before. Now, when he aims a hoe and sends an invasive species to its death, he knows its name.

Adriana Ortiz, 18, used to look at fields such as the one she stood in and see what she thought was a natural landscape. Now she also sees the invasive plants that don’t belong there.

“It’s good we’re helping,” Ortiz said as she paused from her weed-whacking efforts.

She also sees the personal benefits.

“I like trying new things,” she said. “I’m not sure what I want to do with my life. I like the outdoors. It’s nicer than being locked up in an office.”

Ortiz noted that the Youth Ecology Corps gives her the chance to move onto the California Conservation Corps. But what she’d really like to do is become a special effects makeup artist. Instead of killing vegetative invaders, she might someday be making people look like extraterrestrial invaders for the big screen.

Stephen Dworak, 18, took a hoe to a thistle in the flood protection area.

“I feel it is a way to help the community and the ecosystem where I live and also a way to get used to a job,” he said.

He’s learned about invasive plants, and he’s learned about the hard work that one must put into a job, Dworak said. That’s been a good experience as he waits to enter Napa Valley College and aim toward a career in computer science.

“It’s nice to be out here and kind of get a workout for the day,” Dworak said.

Without the Youth Ecology Corps, most of those invasive plants would remain in the flood project area, Horne said. The district would probably fight only one of the worst, most aggressively spreading plants there – the white-flowered perennial pepperweed.

The Corps will also work on Salvador Creek in Napa and in a St. Helena habitat restoration area. It will spend a week working for the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.

All of this is in keeping with the Napa-Lake Workforce Investment Board’s mission under the Federal Workforce Investment Act to help develop the local workforce.

Jeri Gill of the Workforce Investment Board said the idea for the local Youth Ecology Corps came from similar programs in Riverside, Marin and Sonoma counties. The youths work in the field for four days a week, then spend the fifth day learning about job interviews, resume writing and other job-seeking skills.

“It’s developing the skills they need, that employers have told us they want,” Gill said.

The Youth Ecology Corps program costs $65,280. Of that, $32,640 comes from the Napa Lake Workforce Investment Board, $28,560 from the Napa County Flood District and $4,080 from the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.

Author: Barry Eberling

Blog Slideshow: 

Wyoming Conservation Corps Prepares Trails for Summer

Taken From:,

Orginal Link:

Wyoming Conservation Corp prepares Trails for Summer


Thousands of Wyoming residents and tourists enjoy the trails meandering through the many state parks. But not everyone thinks of the time and work needed to make the paths — which is where the Wyoming Conservation Corp comes into the picture.

This summer, 24 college students from around the country plan to travel throughout the state, working to improve the state parks around Wyoming. “Improving” usually entails a chainsaw, said Patrick Harrington, project coordinator for the Conservation Corps.

“They’ll be working with state parks, camping out 65 days in the summer,” he said.

Jobs are set to include removing brush or other debris from trails, installing fencing, clearing a path for a new trail or anything else that needs to be completed.

“We’re taking care of the trails, doing maintenance on the established ones,” said Alek Angele, University of Wyoming junior and Laramie native. “We’re just about finished on a new trail. We also have a lot of chainsaw work, like clearing old brush.”

Some people might think a trail appears after enough people walk on it, Angele said, and don’t know the work needed to create something of that scale.

“From the tourist perspective, it’s very superficial,” he said. “They see the finished project. They don’t see the behind-the-scenes stuff, about taking an environment and how to make a camping site fit in with the natural scenery — seeing how everything will flow together.”

Working outdoors for most of the summer can be rough for some, Harrington said. The Wyoming Conservation Corps is not for everyone.

“Leaders go out at 5 a.m. and start making breakfast and coffee,” he said. “They wake up the crew, eat and pack their lunches together. They’re working by 7 a.m.”

A 10-hour work day follows, digging trails and chainsawing shrubbery.

“It’s a really challenging job,” Harrington said. “At 5 p.m., they’re done for the day, but it’s kind of superficial.”

After going back to camp, two volunteers make dinner while the rest do other chores, like filtering water or cleaning the camp.

“There are a million different behind-the-scenes things that are just as critical,” Harrington said. “They should finish everything by 7:30 p.m.”

The groups work 10 days straight, then get a four-day respite before going back out.

“We’re living the job,” Angele said.

Education days are normally integrated into the schedules, Angele said, to provide experience in something other than the day-to-day work.

However, some of the experiences come from being out in the wilderness for days on end.

“The craziest experiences of my life were out there,” Harrington said. “It’s crazy seeing something no one has ever seen, something no one has ever experienced.”

One of those was during his first year as a team leader near Pinedale.

“There were two male pronghorn doing their dance only 30, 35 feet away,” Harrington said. “They would clash horns, then run away at 45 miles an hour, then come back and do it again.”

While the outdoor experiences could bring unforgettable memories, work connections are an important takeaway that could provide job opportunities for graduates.

“I’ll meet some good contacts and plenty of people that have a lot of experience,” Angele said. “I’m hoping to come away with a new outlook so I can pursue it after I graduate.”

Author: Thaddeus Mast

Heart of Oregon Corps hires 93 to Work, Earn, Learn


Taken From,

C.O. Youth Conservation Corps hires 93 to work, earn, learn


BEND, Ore. -

Forget sleeping in on summer break; 93 teenagers across Central Oregon woke up a little earlier last week as they started work with the Central Oregon Youth Conservation Corps.

For the next seven weeks, they will be showing up at 7:00 AM with their hard hats donned and work boots laced, ready to work conservation projects on this region’s much loved public lands.

As corpsmembers, these young people will learn job skills, earn wages, and become the next generation of conservationists through projects that improve public lands and keep local communities safer from wildfire.

They will forge close bonds with their crew members, learn the importance of teamwork, and complete the program with a lifelong sense of pride at what they have accomplished. Many will echo the sentiments of former participant Erin who shared, “COYCC helped me to become a better person.”

This year, COYCC’s 18 youth crews are based Redmond, Prineville, Madras, Sisters, Bend, La Pine, Crescent and for the first time, Warm Springs.

This COYCC, a program of Heart of Oregon Corps, is a powerhouse collaboration that includes federal, state, private foundation, business, and individual support totaling almost $500,000.  It is one of the largest and most successful summer youth conservation corps programs in the country, and it is growing in size and scope each year. Unfortunately, demand continues to surpass the number of available jobs; 220 youth applied for the 93 positions.

Locally founded non-profit, Heart of Oregon Corps, partners with the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council and the US Forest Service to operate this summer employment program that has become a rite of passage for local teens seeking summer work. 

In addition to a job, teens explore careers in natural resources, earn high school elective credits, and $1,200 AmeriCorps college scholarships. They attend a College Engagement Day at the program’s end to explore their next step.

Take 18 year old Dakota of last year’s program, who said the program encouraged him to check out the forestry program at OSU, and that he planned on applying to college next term.

Each youth can earn $2,600 in wages over 8 weeks.  All told, teens will be paid about $250,000 in wages that they then spend in their home towns, stimulating local economies.

This collaborative program is only possible with generous support from the US Forest Service, which must be matched with funding secured by Heart of Oregon Corps and COIC.  HOC is thrilled to announce the following substantial investments from the community to raise the needed match and make this program possible:

Grant Awards for 2015 Central Oregon Youth Conservation Corps Program


Oregon Youth Conservation Corps


The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, “Developing the Next Generation of Conservationists” (1/86 national awards)


United Way of Deschutes County


The Collins Foundation


The Facebook Data Center in Prineville


The Autzen Foundation


The Gordon Elwood Foundation


The West Family Foundation


PGE Foundation


The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs


The US Bancorp Foundation


Total 2015 Grant Awards to Heart of Oregon Corps


Camping out with Corps: Camping tips from a Crew Leader

Many of America’s Youth Service and Conservation Corps operate programs that engage youth and young adults in backcountry land and water conservation projects. For days, or even weeks at a time, crews of Corpsmembers will camp in some of the most remote locations in the continental U.S. to fix trails, build bridges and maintain our public lands.

For the Crew Leaders who train and manage the Corpsmembers on these backcountry trips, camping is second nature. When you regularly camp with a group of teens and young adults, some of whom might have little or no outdoor experience, you need to be prepared.

Here are some expert camping tips from Brayton Noll, a former Crew Leader from Northwest Youth Corps’ (NYC) Youth Conservation Corps.


1.       What do you do at the campsite during downtime?

During the first couple weeks we don’t have much downtime because everyone is getting used to the processes. They’ll have 20 minutes or so multiple times throughout the day, but most of the time we’re trying to engage them either in SEED – which is our Something Educational Every Day lesson – or playing some games.

My favorite part of NYC is that we do PHs – or personal histories. That’s where the youth get basically an evening to talk about themselves and give the crew their life story. This really bonds the crew together. We usually do that during the second week once the crewmembers know one another and the trust has been established. Ideally it takes place around the campfire and the youth just have the floor for the evening. People ask them questions at the end and they share what brought them to this point.

The youth earn high school credit while doing our program, so we have 5 – 6 weeks of structured lessons planned. We do a theme every week. The first week is living in a camping environment, so we teach them camping basics, how to get along in a group, we make group contracts, we teach them the importance of treating everyone equally. Then the second week, if I’m remembering correctly, we teach geography, we teach them about the landscape around them. The third week is, I think, botany and we teach them about the plants that are around them. We also do resume skills and mock interviews, where the youth practice interviewing and the Crew Leaders teach them skills like how to write an affective cover letter, or how to act in an interview. It’s a pretty holistic educational experience.


2.       What food do you prepare when you’re camping?

NYC supplies us with all the food we need every week. We pick it up when we all meet at the weekend site. Our Program Coordinator will come out and meet all the crews and bring the coolers with all the food we need.

Our food room manager gives us a menu. The youth are doing the cooking – and often they’re new to cooking – so for the first week you generally want to follow the menu to make sure you’re not using up all the meat and cheese on the first night.

But eventually the youth begin to get creative and some really good and interesting meals…sometimes good, always interesting…come out of when the youth drop the menu and just go freeform.

The food room does a pretty decent job of mixing it up. We do a lot of Dutch oven cooking, so we’ll have deep dish pizzas, or cornbread, or burritos, or sometimes this “lasagna-ish” thing, depending on what the youth can do. During the third week of the program – we call it hump week, NYC gives the Crew Leaders $25 to spend on food for a treat. I would generally buy some steak and candy for my kids. Crew Leaders would cook for one meal that week and that would be really delicious because we don’t get steak on a normal basis.

What’s an average day like as far as the menu?

Before we go to work, so around 6:30 or 7, we’ll either have oatmeal with granola, brown sugar and raisins, or bagels with cream cheese. Then at around 10 a.m. we break and everyone eats one sandwich. Every day we generally have 2 sandwiches: one PB&J and one meat sandwich. Most of the time we would eat PB&J sandwiches around 10 o-clock with some Gold Fish or some gorp, maybe a piece of fruit. At lunch you eat your meat sandwich, maybe some more gorp, you get cookies, and some more fruit. Then in the afternoon there’s another break. Most of the time a lot of the food is gone, but we always have gorp, so people will just be snacking on that and rehydrating.

In the evening there’s dinner. All of the meals are generally pretty huge. I used to try and do the SEED lecture before dinner because after dinner the kids just sort of stuff themselves and go into a post-dinner comatose and want to go to bed once they’re done with their chores.


3.       Do you have any tips for camping with a larger group?

I think being really clear. NYC has taught me to be more efficient than I ever thought I could be in regards to camping outside. So being really clear on expectations up front is very important. We have a chore sheet; it works really well to the Crew Leader’s advantage to be really diligent about filling it out and talking to the youth every day about what their responsibilities are. Each youth has an assigned chore that rotates throughout the week, so everyone gets experience cooking, everyone gets experience sharpening the tools, everyone gets experience packing food for the next day. You need to invest time upfront: five minutes explaining something now could save you an hour later.


4.       Some Corpsmembers have little or no camping experience prior to joining the Corps. What would be your most valuable tip for a first-time camper?

Just try it! Some of my favorite and best youth were the ones who had very little camping experience and were just open-minded and excited about trying it. They just totally bought in. Even girls or guys who had never peed in the woods beforehand were, by the end, these hardcore campers that loved to get dirty and embraced every aspect of NYC. The prospect of all that we do can be really intimidating at first, but when you’re learning alongside you’re nine other crewmembers and your two Crew Leaders, it’s a pretty fun and rewarding experience.