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Youth Conservation Corps Fall 2020

Nov 9, 2020

After a week of training at Basecamp in Thoreau, this crew is ready for anything–masks up, helmets on, shovels ready, and classic Gulch denim making a comeback. 

YCC Fall 2020

In 1933, just seven years after Hillis Howie took to the road with his first Trek, the Civilian Conservation Corps was started in an effort to put young people back to work after the Great Depression. With a lack of jobs, and a need to stimulate the economy, the program put young men to work on our public lands, teaching them skills needed to help develop and conserve our natural lands for the health of the environment and enjoyment of the public.

In just the third year of the Zuni Mountains Youth Conservation Corps, we found ourselves in a rather similar dilemma. The Gulch had decided to cancel its previously scheduled summer programming, and was looking through the lens of New Mexico’s public health plan to strategize which programs we could run this fall, while still following our Governor’s orders.

The decision was fairly clear cut. With funding already in place, a historically smaller group then many of our other treks, and many high school graduates deferring from their first year of college, YCC was a great candidate for our first post-Covid program.

While a few graduates applied we also found that many homeschoolers were interested. They could supplement their curriculum with real work experience, get a much needed break from isolating at home, and make some money all at the same time. Two months after making the decision to run our third year of ZMYCC, we embarked from our Albuquerque office, socially distanced in one of our new Mini-Busses, Bonnie, and our most capable Com, the Javelina. Two Crew Leaders and six Crew Members arrived that afternoon at Basecamp, ready to start their week-long training for the projects planned later in the  program.

In the role of Crew Leader was Donna White, a bold and maternal North Carolinian fit perfectly for the role. Donna was hired as our Food Coordinator the for year, and after spending the previous few months on furlough, was itching to get back into the field. With over a decade as an instructor for Costa Rica Outward Bound, and years of experience in the foodservice world, Donna can help you push through the hardest of days on the trail, and melt your heart like butter on first Rendezvous. She didn’t miss a beat getting the crew accustomed to their schedule, and familiar with expectations of being part of a working team.

In addition to Donna, I was there, exuberantly talking about the government’s structure of risk analysis, why it’s so important to fill out your timesheet at the beginning end of each day, and why OSHA exists. They sat through me talking about simple machines, and how most of the tools we would be using are simply taking advantage of leverage, momentum and simple planes, all making it easier for us to cut barbed wire, dig holes with shovels, and blast through rocks with pick-mattocks.

In their first week alone, the crew was able to complete a large amount of work. They moved all 20 of the bunkbeds that were build this summer to their home on the second story of the new QM building. They also buried almost 400 feet of phone / internet cable in conduit on the caretakers side of the road. Finishing out their time at Basecamp, they planted 41 ponderosa saplings around Basecamp that were donated by the Forest Service.

After their first week of training, and working on the Basecamp property, the crew loaded up into the vehicles, bound for the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque. There, they spent 2 days hiking into federally wilderness areas to remove over 200 pounds of cached barbed wire that had previously been used for grazing allotments in the area.

Over the next six weeks they continued to travel around New Mexico, visiting the Santa Fe National Forest to work on some nordic ski trails, and the Carson National Forest to work on replacing and adding directional signage on OHV roads, and regulatory signage in popular hiking and camping areas. In between all their long days of work they spent time rock climbing, visiting hot springs, and exploring some of New Mexico’s finest natural places at a time of year that many summer trekkers sadly don’t get the opportunity to experience.

Cottonwood Gulch is so excited to be able to continue our YCC program in such a different year, and have plans to continue the program in the years to come, making it even more integral the the Gulch experience for trekkers that wish to keep returning, even after they have exhausted their other trek options.

Austin Kessler

Austin is the Associate Director of Field Operations and spent several weeks in the field with this YCC crew.