Arizona Conservation Corps is Born: Coconino Rural Environment Corps and Southwest Conservation Corps Sonoran Desert Office become Arizona Conservation Corps

Southwest Conservation Corps Sonoran Desert Office (SCC) and the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) have recently joined forces as Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC). 

Additionally, Southwest Conservation Corps has created Conservation Legacy - a new parent organization that will continue to operate the SCC program out of Colorado, the AZCC program, Environmental Stewards, a VISTA Team and Southeast Youth Corps. 


"We are confident and already seeing signs of our organization being much stronger as one in Arizona," said Rob Spath, AZCC Executive Director. "We will continue to operate two offices (Tucson and Flagstaff) with many satellite programs in the White Mountains, the Greater Phoenix area, Cottonwood and Safford.  We will also continue to support programming in Southern New Mexico and Southern Utah.  And most importantly, we will be offering up the same, if not better, programs and services."


VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed

VIDEO: Corps Partner to Restore the Escalante River Watershed

2013 Corps Legacy Achievement Award winner, John Irish


In 1972, John Irish took a position working with at-risk youth for the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center. This experience started John’s 39 year career of promoting, designing, developing, and implementing corps programs across the state of Arizona. As said by Miquelle Sheier, program manager of Coconino Rural Environment Corps, “We, Arizona and the Nation, owe John a debt of gratitude for the…public and private support he has generated during his years of service in support…and preservation of corps programs.”
After leaving his position with the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, John took a job with the US Forest Service. John was employed by the Forest Service in one capacity or another from 1977 to March 2005. During this nearly 30 year career, John worked with the Forest Service National Job Corps office on several projects designed to develop relationships between various youth corps programs and Job Corps centers. John was at one point responsible for providing support for senior, youth and volunteer programs in four National Forests. He was also responsible for the start up, supervision and coordination of numerous corps programs and work projects. John helped set up and was Director of a Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC) program and helped set up several Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) programs in Arizona. He also established the Arizona Conservation Corps (ACC) and the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). John served as the Director of CREC from 1996 to 1999 and returned as Interim Director in 2005 and 2006.The organization celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2012.
Additionally, John has been involved in the design, development and implementation of several AmeriCorps programs. This includes Team USDA Arizona, and Youth-In-Action AmeriCorps, which is currently the longest running and largest AmeriCorps program in Arizona.
John’s commitment to youth, conservation and service has been influential in building support for the Corps Movement and in establishing Corps legislation at the state and national levels. In 1985, it was John’s work with Arizona State Representative Karan English that resulted in the passage of House Bill 2654, which established funding for a conservation corps program in Arizona. This bill literally launched the Arizona Conservation Corps (ACC) and provided support and funding for corps programs throughout the state. John’s efforts fostered a powerful grass roots movement that united citizens and organizations throughout Arizona in supporting youth and environment. The Arizona Conservation Corps was recognized by the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASCC, now The Corps Network) as “A Model of Federal-State Cooperation.”
In 2004, John worked with Arizona congressional candidate, and former Coconino County Supervisor, Paul Babbitt, to support US Senator John Kerry in announcing the Forest Restoration Program that included about a hundred million dollars for an environmental corps.
John served on The Corps Network (then called NASCC) Board of Directors from 1993 to 1996. He has been an active member of The Corps Network for over 20 years. Since 2005, John has served as the Chairman of Southwest Conservation Corps’s (SCC) Four Corners Board of Directors, Secretary of SCC’s Executive Board of Directors, and is the current Chairman of SCC's Board of Directors.
When asked what keeps him so passionate about the Corps movement after all this time, John says, “Because this is good stuff.” John’s vision and contributions to the Corps movement have definitely brought the “good stuff” to numerous communities and thousands of youth and young adults.

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Alex Hreha


Alex Hreha admits that during middle school and high school he was “a below average student at an above average weight.” He lacked self-confidence and didn’t have much motivation for school or any kind of physical activity.

Near the end of his junior year of high school, Alex started looking ahead to another uneventful summer of mowing his grandparents’ lawn. Then a friend told him about how she spent the previous summer as a member of an environmental conservation program for youth. She talked about how she got paid to work outdoors in beautiful natural settings, but she described the work as back-breaking and exhausting. Nonetheless, Alex was intrigued by the idea of having a real job. He filled out an application and was soon officially a member of the Sedona Youth Conservation Corps, a program operated by Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC).

Alex was initially apprehensive about what would be required of him as a Corpsmember. He was understandably concerned about spending long hours doing physical labor in the Arizona heat. Alex didn’t have to speculate about the Corps experience for long, however; they put him right to work.  It was 105 degrees on his first day and his crew was assigned to smash cement blocks that were buried in the ground next to an asphalt parking lot. Alex says he woke up the next morning with “blisters growing out of blisters,” but it felt good to come home tired after a day of productive work. He quickly discovered that he had a passion for conservation. He thrived during the next six weeks of the program, which involved doing trail maintenance, rock work, and fence construction.


By the time school started again, Alex had lost over 25 pounds and gained a completely new outlook on life. Though he had never been a stellar student before, Alex produced excellent grades throughout his senior year. He also started an exercise routine and continued to lose weight. By graduation he had lost over 50 pounds and participated in five half-marathons. He decided to continue this positive lifestyle by joining a six-month-long CREC adult program. 

Alex was the youngest person on the adult crew, but he stood out as an excellent leader. The next six months simply reinforced his desire to work in conservation. Alex loved having the opportunity to travel throughout the state and help protect the natural beauty of such places as Walnut Canyon, Aravaipa Canyon, The Coronado Mountain Range, and the Sedona and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

“One of my most memorable moments of the six-month term was during an intense surprise thunder storm. We were cutting trail tread into the dirt on an exposed ridge as the rain became heavier and heavier. Pretty soon it was like trying to walk in chocolate pudding, and the lightning was getting closer,” said Alex. “We continued our work and were counting the seconds between each lightning strike, when, all of a sudden, we were blinded and deafened by a massive lightning strike. A pine tree about 100 feet away took a powerful hit; it felt as if someone had shined a flashlight in my eyes and screamed in my ears. Countless moments like these engrave my memory, and my love for conservation work continues to grow.”

During a project at Walnut Canyon, Alex wandered into the visitor center and came across a black and white photograph from the 1930s that pictured the Civilian Conservation Corps members who built the stone staircases that encircle the canyon.

“I felt a deep connection inside myself and realized all the strenuous work I had completed would remain for centuries,” said Alex.

At the end of the term, Alex used his hard-earned money to move to Prescott, AZ. He enrolled in a community college with the help of his AmeriCorps Education Awards and soon received his Emergency Medical Technician certificate. During the semester, he also completed his first full marathon. Alex was staying active and learning new things, but he missed the outdoors. Shortly after receiving his EMT certification, Alex was accepted for a position as a CREC Youth Conservation Corps Mentor.

Alex had hoped to receive such a position ever since his service in CREC’s Sedona Youth Conservation Corps. He wanted the opportunity to lead new Corpsmembers and hopefully help them realize the same benefits he gained from his experience with a youth crew. Looking after a group of teenagers was a new challenge for Alex, but the two months of the program were ultimately very rewarding. There were a number of occasions throughout the summer when Alex was able to put his EMT training to use. At one point he was able to help a Corpsmember with a scratched cornea, and on another occasion he diagnosed and assisted a Corpsmember who was suffering from hyponatremia; a condition of excess heat, too much water, and not enough electrolytes.

“These terrifying moments challenged me and strengthened my overall character, and after a very successful summer I felt I had a very positive impact on my young crew,” said Alex.

Even after a summer of leading Corpsmembers through desert monsoons, working in 110 degree heat, and volunteering at an animal shelter walking 150 pound pit bulls, Alex was not done with his service at CREC. He was hired as Assistant Crew Leader of the Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition; a new invasive species removal crew. Alex was eight years younger than some of the adults on the crew, but he jumped at the opportunity to continue building his leadership skills. The three-month-long program gave Alex a chance to also learn new skills in forestry; on his fourth day of chainsaw orientation he was able to cut down a 100 foot tall Ponderosa Pine.

After the end of the program in December 2012, Alex took another 3-month-long position with CREC so he could continue to gain experience. He plans to apply for an additional 3 months of service in March 2013, and then lead another Youth Conservation Corps crew during the summer. His goal is to eventually use the rest of his AmeriCorps Education Awards to go back to school and get the credentials he needs to pursue a career in emergency medical response.

“My story would not exist without The Corps Network, and all the outstanding people involved in making programs like CREC possible. CREC and all the other wonderful corps programs provide great opportunities and memories for people across the country, and it is an amazing honor to represent all their hard work and effort. Theodore Roosevelt once said ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.’ I feel a great sense of pride knowing there are tens of thousands of Corpmembers like me across the country putting all their effort into great causes. Together we make a positive impact.”



Corpsmembers of The Year Represent The Corps Network on New National Council of Young Leaders


The Corps Network is pleased to announce that 2012 Corpsmembers of the Year, Philan Tree of Coconino Rural Environment Corps and Ladine Daniels of Energy Conservation Corps/The Sustainability Institute have been appointed to the National Council of Young Leaders. This new Council made up of representatives from national youth-serving organizations is intended to be a permanent body that will advise the White House, Congress, philanthropists, business leaders, and other policymakers on issues affecting disadvantaged or "opportunity youth" and their communities. The next event for the Council will be participation in the Opportunity Nation Summit in Washington DC on September 19, 2012, where they will be leaders for young people from around the country (including several additional Corpsmembers).
More information about the Summit can be found here.

Dorothy Stoneman, founder and CEO of YouthBuild USA, Inc. (one of our partners in the National Council of Young Leaders) speaks to the role of youth-serving organizations in addressing challenges faced by Opportunity Youth in a recently published article on the Huffington Post called "Solutions are Obvious for a National Emergency".

Additional efforts are being worked on to advance the voice of young people. Read more in this posting by SparkAction.

2007 Project of the Year: Historic Island Trail Restoration


Winner: Coconino Rural Environment Corps

The Coconino Rural Environment Corps, whose mission is in part, “To carry on the tradition of the Civilian Conservation Corps”, has been working in partnership with the Flagstaff Area Monuments for several years to repair and rehabilitate the historic Island Trail.  The Island Trail is a strenuous one-mile loop whose 185 vertical foot descent deep into the canyon is made possible by over 200 stone and concrete steps.  Originally built by the CCC, these steps have slowly degraded from use and the freeze-thaw processes active in the 7000 foot climate.  During 2006, CREC members had the great honor of literally following in the footsteps of the CCC by taking on the daunting task of restoring the Island Trail stairs.

Between July and September of 2006, 40 CREC AmeriCorps members contributed 2,961 hours of service to the restoration of the Island Trail stairs over 10 project weeks, through funding awarded by the Arizona State Parks’ Recreational Trails Program (RTP).  Crews began by demolishing the remnants of 78 decomposing steps and manually hauling the debris out of the canyon via the 185 foot near vertical climb.  During this phase, crews uncovered much of the original CCC rock work which had been unfortunately encased in concrete in years since construction.  Additionally, crews uncovered CCC period beverage cans evidently either used as filler, or simply forgotten as trash.  Subsequent crews manually transported 20,880 pounds or more than 10 tons of concrete and over 400 gallons down the trail using backpack haulers.  Members built 25 retaining walls and other erosion control structures and formed and poured more than 90 steps in 4 separate flights of stairs.

As of the close of this season, CREC members have restored nearly half of the more than 200 stairs on the Island Trail.  With additional RTP funding available pending necessary approvals and clearances, CREC looks forward to continued collaboration with Flagstaff Area Monuments and to the eventual full restoration of the CCC’s historic Island Trail.

2011 Project of the Year: Community College Teams with Coconino Energy Conservation Corps


Winner: Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC)

Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) and Coconino Community College built an effective educational partnership in 2010 that has greatly enhanced the experiences of Energy Conservation Corps (ECC) Corpsmembers both in the classroom and in the field.

The partnership began when CREC approached Coconino Community College (CCC) after the College received an award to deliver weatherization training in Northern Arizona. With this award CCC was able to subsidize training expenses for CREC Corpsmembers.

The CCC campus has an extensive lab that allows for practical applications of basic safety, weatherization measures, and construction training activities that develop the Corpsmembers learning experiences. Courses cover Basic Weatherization, Tier 1 retrofitting, and Tier 2 retrofitting. Corpsmembers receive in-depth, professional training to become competent residential retrofitters. The six full days of training mirrors the Tier 1 retrofitting that Corpsmembers apply in the field.

The college also arranges for Corpsmembers to complete an energy audit on a volunteer residential home. First, however, they complete the installation of retrofit materials in a controlled classroom setting before working on the home. After completing their retrofit, Corpsmembers can see real time results from post tests, giving them a concrete understanding of the value and improved energy efficiency that result from weatherization of homes.

After students finish their terms, CCC and CREC combine resources to provide post-employment assistance by helping Corpsmembers find jobs within the local green construction field. So far six Corpsmembers who have completed this certificate training have accepted green jobs with local energy and sustainability companies in Flagstaff. This makes the training program even more effective as the skills gained through this collaboration directly impact the communities of Northern Arizona in terms of both overall energy conservation and developing a local, capable, and certified workforce.

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Afton McKusick

***Update! Click here to read about what Afton has been up to since she won her award.***

(Written in 2006)

A remarkable and resilient Corpsmember, Afton McKusick has been a fixture of enthusiasm and dedication in the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). Encouraging several of her friends to join the corps with her, Afton began her successful role as corps recruiter during her junior year of high school. Her love for preserving the northern Arizona landscape continues to bring new members to CREC every season.

Afton's first summer project with CREC consisted of removing the invasive species, cliff rose, off the sides of Walnut Creek. She loved the hard work and since then has worked on trail maintenance and chainsaw crews. Despite already receiving her allotted two AmeriCorps Education Awards she has insisted on spending her summers protecting the natrual environment of northern Arizona.

Afton says the program has helped her realize many life lessons. "Every person we come into contact with will in some way or another have an impact on us," says McKusick, "but we also have an impact on them."

As much as the program has benefited from Afton, she stated that CREC has been equally helpful in her character development. "Without this program, I would not be the person I am today, " Afton said. Explaining her reasons for returning to the prorgram, Afton said, "I came back because...this is a place where I can make a difference." 

2009 Corpsmember of the Year: Aaron Dennis Crouse

(Written in 2009)

Aaron Dennis Crouse first started working with the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) the summer after his junior year of high school.  He spent his summer decommissioning roads and building trails leading to the Wild and Scenic Verde River. He was happier than he had ever been in his life.  During his senior year, however, he was hospitalized for severe depression.

Going back to CREC the next summer kept him going.  He decided to postpone college in order to stay at CREC.  He spent three grueling months working on a backcountry crew for the Southwest Conservation Corps, based in Tucson, AZ.   By September, he had been unanimously elected as Crew Leader even though he was the youngest person on the crew.   Before the term ended, he had already signed up for a year-long term back in Flagstaff. 

CREC was a life changing experience for Aaron.  As he said:

“This year has brought more than a fair share of tribulations for me: I struggled, once again, with being the youngest member on my crew; I contracted a MRSA infection and had to be hospitalized for 2 weeks after having a golf-ball-sized chunk of flesh removed from my knee; two of my high school friends died, as well as my Grandmother, who was the driving force in my life.  I honestly believe that I couldn’t have dealt with these challenges without my experiences in CREC and the support from my CREC family.” 

Aaron wants to continue working to improve the environmental health of the Arizona landscape he has come to love. 

It fills me with pride to know that I have spent the last year-and-a-half making a positive difference in the environment, and it fills me with elation to know that I will be able to continue this work," said Aaron. "Despite all of the challenges that I have faced this year, I will be graduating with friendships that are stronger than any natural substance, experiences inconceivable to those who have not had them, and a sense of accomplishment that will act as a strong foundation for the rest of my life.”