Baltimore Teens Trade Summer in the City for Conservation in the Wilderness

 

They traveled 2,000 miles from home, trading high-rise buildings for towering trees, city lights for twinkling stars, and an urban cacophony for the melodies of songbirds.

Relaxing? Hardly. These six Baltimore teenagers aren’t on vacation. They are working long, hard days to restore the wilderness character of Carson National Forest in New Mexico.

All six are members of the Student Conservation Association (SCA), a national nonprofit organization that engages young adults in hands-on conservation to build connections with nature and provide career skills and training. In June and July, the crew members worked in urban parks back home in a pioneering SCA program that employs under-represented city youth in green summer jobs near their own neighborhoods. When given the option of performing similar work in a national forest, the teens jumped at the chance.

“There’s not many wide open places like this left, so we have to do what we can to protect them,” says 17-year-old Malik Moore. “Plus, I get to go out West for the first time. No way was I going to pass this up.”

None of the SCA team had ever traveled this far before; few had even been more than a few miles from home. During the day, they build hiking trails, restore campsites, and remove invasive plants before heading to basecamp to prepare their own meals over an open fire, take in environmental lessons from their crew leaders, and retreat to their tents for a restful sleep. “This is an adventure, no doubt about it,” states Howard Thorne, Jr. “But we all know why we’re here. There’s work to do.”

The project is part of the Forest Service’s 10-Year Challenge to achieve specific stewardship objectives at more than 400 US Forest Service sites by 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. S. Elwood York, Jr., the Forest Service’s wilderness program leader in Washington, D.C., says he also had another objective in mind in creating the Carson opportunity for the SCA Baltimore crew.

Read more about this story here.

Corpsmembers at Forest History Center Bring CCC History Alive


For the third summer, a crew from the Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa served at the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota working as interpreters in the Center’s early 1900s-era living history museum, and doing field work such as trail maintenance and fence construction. Corps members Willie Storm and Marjie Shrimpton spend their afternoons in costume: Storm as a woodsman teaching about logging practices and Shrimpton singing and dancing in the kitchen as a cook assistant. Jen Sikkink and Riley Cavanaugh worked the forester’s cabin and fire tower, teaching visitors about the CCC’s role in logging history and tying it to the Corps’ current work in maintaining, restoring and educating the public about Minnesota forests. Becky Jennings, interim FHC program director, praised the work of the crews in initiating and maintaining projects that enhance the experience for visitors. “They are ambitious, hard-working, able to think on their feet and work independently, but also work really well as a crew,” said Jennings. “We’ve been thrilled to have them here.”

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.

2008 Project of the Year: Making Outdoor Recreation More Accessible

Winner: Utah Conservation Corps

Through the "Access to Service Project," Utah Conservation Corps developed service projects to include crew members with disablities. Fifty percent of the 8-person crew self-identified as having a physical disability. Disabilities among members included quadriplegia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy.

In the first of their two main projects, the inclusive crew partherned with the US Forest Service to conduct an accessbility evaluation of the Wasatche-Chache National Forest and create a transition plan to help them meet federal requirements. They developed a user-friendly accessbility survey form that has become the standard for the region. They completed accessbility surveys for 8 campgrounds and 2 trails and developed 10 transition plans, immediately addressing the issues identified in one of the transition plans by constructing a fully accessible fishing pier at Second Dam picnic area in Logan Canyon. They partnered with Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, Logan City, local Boy Scouts and the Forest Service to make this happen.

For the second project: an accessible greenhouse and adapted gardening tools. The crew grew tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, squash and herbs in raised beds and table top planters.

Another "Access to Service" goal was to involve people with disabilities in positions of leadership. Andy Zimmer, who has quadriplegia, served as a crew leader. By placing people with disabilities in positions of leadership, outdated stereotypes that limit people with disabilities are shattered and attitudes toward people with disabilities evolve and change. 

2012 Project of the Year: Military Posts to Park Program

 

Winner: Mile High Youth Corps

The “Post to Parks Program” was a unique collaboration between a local youth conservation corps (Mile High Youth Corps – Colorado Springs), a local military installation (Fort Lewis Army Base) and a National Park (Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument). Conducted during the Summer of Service Program 2011, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it served a relatively small number of young people (26) with the potential to serve hundreds more. “Post to Parks” engages Corpsmembers and potential future Corpsmembers for their own benefit and that of our National Parks.

One crew of Mile High Youth Corps’ Corpsmembers was paired with and became mentors for seventeen youth from Fort Carson on a four day educational adventure. For several days preceding their time together the Corpsmembers planned educational sessions, games and experiential activities for their mentees. When the Fort Carson teenagers arrived the ice was quickly broken through a series of games and sharing activities. Corpsmembers then involved the younger youth in interpretive programs, fossil labs, and interpretive hikes.

The youth from Ft. Carson worked each day with MHYC corps members on trail maintenance, learned tool safety, erosion control, and noxious weed identification. The Corpsmembers had the opportunity to teach and tell these youth about Leave No Trace Camping, hiking safety, what Corps do and why. They also formed a panel with staff of the Monument to talk about their careers in the outdoors. Both Corps and military youth were also able to interact with park staff and learned about volunteer and career opportunities in the National Park System.

This program was developed by staff at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and planned collaboratively with the Mile High Youth Corps. It was funded by two grants from the National Parks Foundation. The goal of the project is to get military youth connected to our parks, to provide leadership opportunities for Corpsmembers and to recruit new members for the Corps.

The youth from military families received transportation, lunches, and a small stipend for participating in the program. The Corpsmembers camped at the park, prepared their own meals, and received their weekly stipends as usual. Prior to the project Corpsmembers were not surprised to learn they would be swinging shovels and tamping trail but they never imagined that they would also be called upon to develop a curriculum and teach their trail and camping skills while also showing compassion and understanding to children of military families whose parents could be deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Both Corpsmembers and the youth from the military base benefited tremendously from this project.

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." 

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Crystal Ann Lamb


Crystal Ann Lamb wanted a challegne. Completing her undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech and just beginning graduate school, Ctystal Ann knew she needed a different kind of education -- one that would challenge her physically, mentally and vocationally. She found the Southwest Youth Corps (now the Southwest Conservation Corps) on the AmeriCorps website and knew it was the program for her.

Immersed in a crew full of diversity, Crystal Ann thrived and became an example of open communication and enthusiasm. The program included school presentations, where Crystal Ann utilized her deftness for public speaking. Crystal Ann was a big part of the success of her crew, which led to a guarantee of funding for next year's CDTA (Continental Divide Trail Alliance) program and offers for future projects.

She came back in June for another eight-week back country program in Colordo. An immediate transition from sea level to 10,000 feet was a great physical challenge. This only motivated Crystal Ann that "a small number of people can make a big difference." She is convinced she has learned more in those four months of SYC than during her four years of college. Her fellow crew members and the entire CDTA are grateful for her sincere motivation as she continues her work in the conservation field.

(written in 2006)

2007 Corpsmember of the Year: Alana Svensen

***Update! Click here to find out what Alana has been up to since accepting her award.***

As a Corpsmember with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), Alana helped coordinate the first rotation of 600 NCCC members to the Gulf Coast in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In other NCCC rotations in the Northeast Region, Alana framed homes with Habitat for Humanity, helped with education programs in Maryland and the Bronx and became a Certified Wild Land Firefighter in upstate New York.

Unsure what she wanted to to do when she graduate college in 2003, Alana joined the Corps to "give back to society." During her time deployed at the Red Cross staging area in the Gulf Coast, teaching children in the education programs, and building trails and homes, Alana feels she learned a lot about other people but even more about herself and what she can do. She plans to use her newly discovered logistical and building skills, as well as the insights she has gained, to continue to serve through a nonprofit or government agency. 

2007 Corpsmember of the Year: Yvette Chischillie

As a Corpsmember with the Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) in Durango, CO, Yvette was part of a Special Diabetes Project of the Navajo Nation, led a crew in constructing a brand new trail in the Chuska Mountains of New Mexico and was a leader of the Wild Fire Prevention Program.

Yvette was the first SCC Corpsmember from the Navajo Nation and her positive experience inspired so many to apply in the following years that there are now more applications from the Navajo Nation than there are available member spots.

Yvette graduated from vocational school in welding in bricklaying and plans to use her AmeriCorps education award to go into a apprenticeship program in bricklaying.

2007 Corpsmember of the Year: Rosalio "Lio" Cardenas

 

(Written in 2007 - update at the bottom)

Rosalio took an unusual path to becoming a Corpsmember.  After spending two and a half semesters working towards a civil engineering degree at San Diego State University, and working much of that time in the university library and as a math and science tutor, Rosalio decided his college experience was lacking.  In the CCC, Rosalio saw his opportunity to work outdoors, provide a valuable service to his state, meet new people from various backgrounds, and earn scholarship money to assist him in completing his degree in the future. 

As a CCC corpsmember, Rosalio initially engaged in fire hazard reduction work, removing burned and dead trees from communities hard hit by the San Diego wildfires of 2000.  In early spring with heavy rains threatening flooding and mudslides, Rosalio and his crewmembers again served their communities by working tirelessly to divert debris, flood waters, and mud from residential neighborhoods.  Because of his high standards for performance and eagerness to assist others, Rosalio quickly established himself as a leader among his peers.  By April, Rosalio was ready for the next challenge that the CCC had to offer: the Backcountry Trails Program.

Choosing to leave the comforts of home life in southern California, Rosalio joined a crew of 15 Corpsmembers who committed themselves to spending 22 weeks living and working in the wilderness of Klamath National Forest.  The trials faced by backcountry Corpsmembers are daunting, but once again Rosalio was unflinching in his determination to meet them.  Rosalio stood out not only for the unprecedented results he achieved on the grade, but also for the amount of time he committed to performing communal chores and providing mentoring and guidance to his fellow crewmembers. He went beyond expectations by creating an extensive evening curriculum program aimed at developing a greater sense of community, environmental awareness, and communication skills.   His compassion, integrity, and consideration for others were widely respected among his peers and earned him the moniker, “Papa Leo.”  Peter Lewis, the CCC’s Backcountry Trails Supervisor, said of Rosalio “in the 28 years we have been sending Corpsmembers to the backcountry, I can think of no finer person to represent the program or the youth of America.”

Leo now plans to use the AmeriCorps education award he earned with the CCC to finish his degree in Civil Engineering and has applied to the California Highway Patrol so he can continue to make an impact on his peers and community. 

*** Sadly, Rosalio was killed in a motorcycle accident on the morning of Wednesday, December 12, 2012. 

The Corps Network sends condolences to Rosalio’s wife, family, and friends. To honor Rosalio, we have posted the speech he gave at our National Conference in February 2007 upon accepting his Corpsmember of the Year award. 

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