Eagle County’s Youth Conservation Corps celebrates 10 years
MINTURN – The Body Politic may be strained, but the Corps is strong.
Eagle County’s Youth Conservation Corps is 10 years old.
And how are they celebrating their 10th anniversary? By taking kids into the national forest to work hard until it feels good.
To learn whether they’d rather work this hard or beg for money from town councils and civic clubs or sell stuff door to door, we polled a dozen members of Battle Mountain High School’s cross country team. We found them on Game Creek Trail above Minturn Wednesday, hauling rocks and swinging hammers to build steps on the trail. It’s as glamorous as it sounds.
“We’d rather do this,” they said almost simultaneously, reaching for another large, heavy flat rock to pound into place.
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The speech and drama club was out this summer. Eagle Valley High School’s cheerleaders spent a day on the trail. Thousands of kids in hundreds of groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In the last decade, 4,014 kids have earned $326,335 for some far-flung causes, said Katie Davies with the Forest Service, who helps ride herd on the YCC.
Kids earn $10 an hour for just about any task the Forest Service can come up with – campground upgrades, trail building, anything. It’s work, it’s outdoors, it’s character building.
“It get kids into the forest environment that surrounds them every day,” Davis said. “That was part of the original plan when this program started.”
The Youth Conservation Corps is loosely based on the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps that put people back to work building public projects. Tigiwon Lodge above Minturn was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, along with other projects in the national forest.
The Youth Conservation Corps adds education to the effort.
Former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone dreamed it up, and pushed it through with an assist from former commissioner Michael Gallagher.
“The genesis of the Youth Conservation Corps came from an earnest attempt to bridge the knowledge gap between the next generation’s use and understanding of our environment,” Stone said. “I wanted to find a way to encourage our youth to know and respect our surroundings. I added education as a part of the program so they learn while they earn.”
They launched the program in 2000 following lots of public input while the Forest Service was revising its White River National Forest management plan. Lots and lots of public input.
Eagle County’s Youth Conservation Corps invests in two precious resources: youth and the environment, Davies said.
Kids help the Forest Service with much-needed forest health and site improvements. They’ve been a godsend this summer. The Forest Service’s didn’t have many trail crews, and has used Youth Conservation Corps extensively, says Jeff Thompson with the Forest Service.
While they’re raising both bucks and blisters, youth learn about conservation, forest management and career opportunities in natural resources.
Youth Conservation Corps workers might end up anywhere, doing anything.
They work with the combined Holy Cross/Eagle and the Sopris districts on the White River National Forest, as well as Colorado State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management, Vail Nature Center and town of Eagle open space.
The Forest Service identifies projects, decides how old and how skilled kids need to be to work them, and matches them up. Forest Service staffers tag along with each group, just to make sure.
“I’ve never had to send anyone home,” Davies said. “They do anything and everything we ask them to do.”
On Wednesday in the summer sun, a dozen teenagers worked for hours, took a lunch break, Davies gave them a quick nature lesson, then they worked some more. Not one kid broke out a cell phone.
All groups work like that, Davies said. They do campground maintenance, pull weeds, build and repair trails. YCC groups almost completely renovated Deep Lake campground.
Wednesday’s workday counted as conditioning for the Battle Mountain cross country crew. It makes sense; they broke blisters in brand new places.
After all, conditioning is all about the Corps.