In the Field: Week 5

After a week long hiatus from field work for the Conservation Corps’ Mid-Week where crews learned about NPS careers, reflected on their goals, participated in educational field classes, and helped set over 50 bear bins in Moraine Park Campground of RMNP, the crews are back in the field.

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Estes Crew

After a fun week of camping with all the other RMC Crews, in Moraine Park, the Estes Crew moved back into the Chamberlin House. This time with a new member to the family, Grace Oh-Willeke! Grace has joined the Estes Crew for the remainder of the season after participating in the Corps High School Leadership Program. On Monday, the crew hiked up 1.5 miles, over twelve switchbacks, to get to their project site, next to Bierstadt Lake.

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View of the Daily Commute for the Estes Crew

Once at the worksite the crew was briefed on what steps would be needed to complete the turnpike project. Turnpikes are built on poor drained areas of a trail to raise the trail surface for better drainage. The rest of Monday consisted of the entire crew peeling logs, in preparation to build the turnpikes later in the week. Tuesday was identical to Monday. The Estes Crew hiked up the twelve switchbacks and continued to peel logs for the day. In all, the Estes Crew peeled over 350ft of logs!

 

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The Estes Crew Chips Away at Peeling Bark off a Dead Log

Wednesday was bring your boss to work day for the Estes Crew! Geoff Elliot, Conservation Corps Manager, and Estee Murdock, Executive Director, came out to the project site to work with the Estes Crew for most of the day.

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Sal Sharp fitting a log into place for our first turnpike

The work on Wednesday was comprised of ripping out the old, rotten turnpike logs, and digging trenches for the new logs. Once the trenches were cleared for the new logs, the rest of the day was spent trying to find the perfect fit  and cut precise angles to secure each log together.

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Blake Crossland and Geoff Elliot Supervising the Work of Sal Sharp, Simbi Umwali, and Grace Oh-Willeke

On Thursday the Estes Crew traded in their log peelers for some explosives! After discovering two large rocks in the middle of a turnpike trench, the Estes Crew needed the help of micro-blasters to remove the rocks. However, the crew ran into a few snags on Thursday, drill batteries were dead and not all of the equipment was working properly. This resulted in a less productive workday, but the two large rocks were removed from the trench. After a strenuous workweek, the Estes Crew is looking forward to a relaxing weekend!

– Chris Rokusek (Estes Crew Leader of the Week)

Boulder Crew

Homestead Ned was a sight for sore eyes for the Boulder Crew after being away for almost a week for midweek, but nobody stayed long before we were all off again. Most of the crew headed down to The Great Sand Dunes and I (Ally) went to camping with my family. Everybody had a good weekend despite all the mosquitos and came back Sunday night to get ready for the next day and get back into the groove of work. My little tent and my bed inside feel like home now and the peace and quiet is a welcome change from what I am use to. All of us are more than use to tent camping now and fell back into the groove of camp pretty quick.

Monday was a day of crosscutting. We were back up in the Brainard Lake Area to help clean up some of the trails before they opened the gate for more easy access. We were without our main supervisor Ben because he was still out on a fire but our higher up supervisor Jon gave us direction for what we would be doing for the day. We would be up on Long Lake Trail which loops around and gives access to other trails. Our task was to use our crosscut abilities to buck out the trees that had fallen on the trail. We have all become more comfortable with crosscut now that we have some experience under our belt. We were tasked by Jon to take our time and enjoy ourselves. A task not hard to enjoy with the beauty that is the Brainard Lake Area. High peaks surround you and there are so many lakes and creeks around to listen to and enjoy. We formed two teams of three. Team Alpha and Team Better than Alpha. I was on Team Better than Alpha with Ryan and Andrea and we got to work bumping from tree to tree on the trail. This took up most of our day and we cleared out 16 trees that had fallen on the trail. Our crosscut skills further refined we finished up early and went to work on some drainage on a nearby trail. We got started putting in some new drains on Mitchell Lake Trail and cleaning out some old ones. We only got about a quarter mile in before turning back for the day and heading to Homestead Ned.

Tuesday was another day of crosscutting but on a different trail. We kept our crosscut gear from yesterday and headed up to Fourth of July Trail which hooks up to the trail we would be crosscutting, Diamond Lake Trail. Getting to the trail was a bit of a drive and a bumpy one at that. This trail was one of the higher elevations ones we had been on and we were joined by Tommy from the Conservancy for our work day. First thing on our list was to get to the first downed tree on the trail which didn’t happen till about a mile and a half in. We switched up the crews a bit from the day before. That day I had Brendan and Louisa with me on our team and Lucas, Ryan and Andrea were on the other. Lucas and I played Rock, Paper, Scissors for the first tree and we were off from there bumping along from tree to tree. Alpine lakes are always really beautiful and Diamond Lake was no different. For the amount of hiking we did, there weren’t as many trees to clear out as the day before but we still managed to clear out 12 trees. A hike up to tree line and a bit of playing on a snowpile around lunchtime rounded out our day. We hiked back the 3.5 miles to the truck giving us 7 miles for the day. We were tired but happy as we headed back to the Work Center to put away our crosscut gear and then headed back to camp for a delicious meal. We don’t know what we will do once we don’t have Brendan to cook for us anymore.

Wednesday we luckily got to sleep in after a long hike the previous day. In fact we didn’t even have to leave camp because the work we would be doing that day was taking place at our campground Kelly Dahl with the people in the Recreation Department. We took our time in the morning and got out of our campsite ready to do some work in the place that we call home. Tommy from the Conservancy joined us again for the morning and our task for the day was to install these wooden frames into the ground. They would then later be filled with concrete in order for the Forest Service to install bear boxes in the campground. We split up into three teams of two, though Louisa and I had a volunteer named Brian with us that had come up from Arvada. The three groups bumped from campsite to campsite digging holes for these frames to fit into. After a while we had another team going when Jared the Recreation Manager and his coworker finished the flagging of where the frames would go. With four teams going we finished a bit early. In total we installed 46 frames for the eventual bear box installation. The Rec Crew gifted us with cookies and peanut butter which we were really excited for and then released us for the day. We drove the like 1/10 of a mile back to camp and got started on dinner. We were joined for dinner by one of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance Interns John who is a veteran of the Conservation Corp. After dinner I taught a line dance to my crew and John for my lesson plan. I taught the line dance Good Time and it went over really well. Everybody got it and if there is time in the rest of the season I will take everybody down to my favorite dance spot, The Grizzly Rose, to do the dance in a more real setting.

Thursday was our last work day of the week and we were back up in the Brainard Lake Area for some more trail work before they opened the gates. We had a higher up supervisor Jon with us that day and we divided into two groups. Ryan and Brendan went with Jon to complete bridge work they had started on the week before midweek on the Long Lake Trail. The bridge had lost one of its railings so they installed another. The other group made up of Lucas, Andrea, Louisa and me were tasked with continuing the work we had started on Monday on the Mitchell Lake Trail. We worked on drains for the whole work day. We took our time to make sure the drains would last and went through some of the drains we dug on Monday making sure we were through. We were joined later in the day by Ryan and Brendan after they finished their bridge work and we made it 1.5 miles up the trail between Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake. We will probably be back on that trail in the coming weeks to finish all the way up to Blue Lake. We cleared out about 20 drains and dug 40 new ones in that 1.5 miles giving us 60 total on that trail. We wrapped up our work and headed back to camp to start our weekend which was filled with a variety of activities.

As we go along I realize how little time we have left. Three more weeks of work and one week to wrap up the season. I don’t know how I will feel when this comes to an end, I am just trying to enjoy it while it lasts. Time keeps passing and things keep changing. We are celebrating one of our crew member’s birthdays on Sunday. We baked Louisa some peach pies and we are going to Katmandu for some delicious food. We are enjoying the time we still have together before we say goodbye to each other and Homestead Ned. This experience is truly one of a kind and I am grateful every single day that I get to be a part of it.Gustafson_4thofjulytrailconnection_diamondlaketrailGustafson_crosscutcrewbravo_longslaketrailGustafson_crosscut-giantlog-longslaketrailGustafson_limbing_longslaketrailGustafson_snowfun_diamondlaketrail

Signing off from Nederland,

-Ally Gustafson (Boulder Crew Leader of the Week)

Shadow Mountain Crew

This week was incredibly productive and fun for the Shadow Mountain Crew! We got to experience a wide range of weather, which is always interesting, as well as a variety of trail topographies and assignments.

Our week started Tuesday with the monthly Sulphur Ranger District meeting, during which every employee on the district comes together to Grand Lake to discuss important issues, events, and concepts. This district meeting happened to be the annual Shadow Mountain Village cleanup, so we spent all day in the village (the housing in which we and about 20 other seasonals live) doing various work to straighten it up. One group scraped, sanded and repainted around 25 picnic tables; another cleaned out two defunct houses filled with random furniture and appliances that need to be demolished; another organized “the Boneyard,” the outside area where the district keeps raw materials for later use; another installed new doors around the village. The cleanup was such a nice change of pace and was especially enjoyable in that we got to hang out with some amazing, wise, fun employees whom we normally don’t see and many of whom have been working for the USFS for decades. They have so much knowledge and grace to offer, and we all feel quite lucky to know them.

On Wednesday, our crew split into two groups and took on two sections of the High Lonesome Trail, which starts in the Indian Peaks at Lake Granby and continues into private land near Fraser and Devil’s Thumb. One group started at Devil’s Thumb and worked its way seven miles to Junco Lake. Kendra, our Forest Service boss, was bucking trees off the trail with a chainsaw while Curtis swamped for her. Elise and I trailed behind them all day clearing and creating drains, which was something of a challenge, as the trail was relatively flat. The other group, led by Amy, worked from Junco Lake to Monarch Lake crosscutting and doing drain work. While all of us got significant work done, it felt like a rather mellow day; we felt relaxed and, quite frankly, spoiled by the lack of elevation gain in our trail sections. The heavens did decide to open, though…we were poured on by rain, freezing rain, and hail literally for hours. We were soaked to the bone, even with our rain gear, and were freezing by the time we got to the trucks. It made for an exciting day and story, and we felt like we’d had a small adventure that day.

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The High Lonesome Trail between Devil’s Thumb and Junco Lake        

Thursday brought us to the Byer’s Peak Wilderness, where we worked on the Bottle Pass trail under the supervision of Andrew Otter, a veteran seasonal. We spent the whole day crosscutting fallen trees, as the beetle kill and wind exposure are both high in the area. We worked our way up steep switchbacks in the trees until we reached a large, open ridge from which we could see Byer’s Peak, mountain cirques, and the Gore Range in the distance. (Elise and I were so in awe of the view of Byer’s that we went back on Saturday and hiked it!) From there, Otter’s group hiked up the ridge, and Tommy’s group hiked across it and down into some trees. I was walking along with Tommy and my group when we heard a terrifying, raspy growling noise. We stopped dead in our tracks, and every one of us thought we were about to fight a mountain lion or bobcat. We were surprised to see Otter and his group traipsing down the hillside through some trees to our right. Otter is notorious for making all sorts of animal noises on trail and taking pleasure in psyching people out…he was beaming as he appeared amidst the trees and saw our pallid faces. It was ultimately a hilarious end to a great day.

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View of Byer’s Peak from the Ridge on Bottle Pass

 

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Mary bravely crosscuts a hang up

 

Friday, we drove out into the Williams Fork and worked on the Williams Peak trail. As a crew of seasonals had gone on hitch last week and cleared the whole trail, our job was to brush all day. The trail and topography felt vastly different from anywhere we’ve worked so far. It was far more open and Western feeling, which was a neat change. We brushed up the trail through open areas, lodgepole groves, and aspen stands. Eventually we reached the area that was our main objective for the day, a place we called “Baby Tree City.” The trail was clear cut a few years ago, and in turn, hundreds of baby lodgepoles had sprung up, and in this area they were so dense that you could hardly see the trail. We got to it with our loppers and silkies, clearing a seemingly countless number of baby lodgepoles. After this we took lunch, from whence one group went on to Hamilton Creek to brush and another stayed and worked on tread in a horribly trenched out section of the trail. At Hamilton Creek, we encountered a huge herd of cows that seemed very curious about us…Mary was stalked by a few of them, but she came out unharmed. We brushed along brand new corridor that Amy and Kendra had cut out the previous week, working our way back to the tread crew. At the end of the day, we all felt that our weekend had been duly earned.

-Anna Floyd (Shadow Mountain Crew Leader of the Week)

Rawah and Red Feather Crews (Redwah)

This past week the Rawah and Red Feather crews teamed up for another week on Youngs Gulch Trail in the Cache le Poudre Canyon. Instead of working from the trailhead, the crews focused their efforts on the upper stretches of the trail. This area was touched by the High Park Fire in 2012 and the floods in 2013, so it hasn’t seen much use in over 5 years. With that much of the work centered around establishing new tread and corridor. This required a lot of work in the dirt, some rock wall construction, and a few trees to be felled. On the first day alone, we estimated that the crews dug over 600 feet of new tread!

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-Geoff Elliot (Conservation Corps Manager)

 

In the Field: Week 4

Red Feather Crew

This week the Red Feather Crew started out at Signal Mountain on Monday and hiked roughly 3.5 miles in. They ended up working until their first much needed 15-minute snack break with guests Geoff Elliot and Tommy Egland. After the two left, the crew continued on and dug 56 drains total that day just before getting stopped by a wild Moose. They hiked through a beautiful trail that went through what crew members Zach and Colin believe to be an end moraine based off of their education from college.

Zach Signal Mountain

On Tuesday the crew headed to Flowers Trail to start their one-day hitch. Little known to them they had a massive section of trail to clear of downed trees. Approximately 3.5 miles in crew members Stephanie, Zach, and Davina stumbled upon the mess while realizing the crew had left the cross cut in the vehicle. Stephanie took the lead and trekked back to get it while the two other members started limbing the branches.

Crew Lead of the week Colin was hiking back to find member Abby and Co-Lead Shelby who were about a mile behind because they noticed a large section that needed a drain and water bar. Much later that day the crew finally cleared the downed trees the covered much of the trail and headed out for the day.

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Flowers AfterThe lessons learned of the day were 1) ALWAYS bring every tool you need regardless and 2) Cross cutting is a tiring endeavor but well worth it.

On Wednesday after a much needed rest at a beautiful campsite in the Comanche Peaks, the crew headed back to Signal Mountain in hopes to work until they reached the peak and in hopes that the moose had wandered off. They discovered that the latter half of Signal Mountain had not been maintained for a very long time and began to work on drains and downed logs. They cut 11 trees that day and dug 24 drains. Crew members Davina and Shelby were working on cross cutting a tree 2 foot in diameter when all of a sudden their saw got stuck. With no way to get it out they thought up some ingenious ideas. After nothing worked, with quick thinking Davina suggested to cut where the tree was resting on another. Soon after they finished that cut the tree dropped and the saw was free! As Shelby and Davina were cutting the large log, the rest of the crew decided to head on and see what was up the steeper part of the trail. They realized that there was so much work to be done and that the latter half of Signal could potentially be a project for another time. When the rest of the crew members got back, Davina and Shelby showed their success and took to using the large log to canoe down the mountain and into the Poudre. Davina and Shelby

Thursday the Crew headed to Dadd Gulch just before splitting up for the weekend. The crew ended up hiking 7 miles that day and maintaining the frequently used trail. On their hike they ran into numerous trail goers and some Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. Most of the trail goers thanked the crew and gave recognition to the hard work that they were doing. After completing a very large water bar and drain Abby and Stephanie decided it was time to rest in their finished product because their work was so draining. The crew then headed out for the weekend with members Colin, Davina, Zach, Abby, and Stephanie all headed to Moab, UT while member Shelby trekked from the Poudre Canyon into Estes Park! abby and stephanie

-Colin Mortemore (Red Feather Crew Leader of the Week)

Shadow Mountain Crew

This past week, the Shadow Mountain Crew joined forces with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps to tackle an incredible project. In recent years, the Morgan Gulch trail was rendered useless by pine beetle deadfall. Along with Arapaho National Forest USFS representatives and the RMYC, we set out on a four day long backcountry hitch to restore the trail and make it again accessible to the public.

Over the course of the week, as a direct result of hard work and camaraderie, approximately two miles worth of trail saw all deadfall removed. Final numbers soared, the crews removing hundreds upon hundreds of trees that had previously fallen on the trail and felling nearly a hundred more that stood alongside the trail and would imminently fall onto the trail if not attended to. The saw work was completed so efficiently that the crews had to readjust their plans as ensure there was work to be done the remainder of the hitch. In addition to the numerous trees removed, the crews were able to reestablish tread along two sections of meadow marked beforehand solely by orange and pink ribbons tied on the stalks of green corn lilies. The entire corridor was brushed, from the trailhead we began at to the point of our end goal. Drains were dug dutifully in areas that required better watershed. In addition to basic drain work, two large trenches, reminiscent of turnpikes, but not quite as extensive, were installed in especially muddy spots along the trail.

This hitch was not only successful in terms of work accomplished, but also brought our crew closer together. We bonded with each other on a deep level, through conversation held around the fire and on trail, cooperation regarding camp chores, and by encouraging each other to give it all we had, even on days we felt a little bit off. The work we completed on this trail established meaningful connections between the Shadow Mountain crewmates and the forest around them.

On the final day of the hitch, as we were finishing up one of the sections of meadow being retreaded, some gentlemen rode by on their horses. All thanked us for our hard work, and praised the quality of the trail. As they exited the meadow, the last man in line tipped his cowboy hat towards us all in gratitude. Though he did not ride off into the sunset, the admiration in his eyes was all we needed to witness, as we wiped the last drops of sweat off our muddied foreheads, to know that the job we did was truly meaningful to those who have stepped, and those who may step, into the wilderness of the Morgan Gulch trail.

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Additionally, below is a link to a video of the Shadow Mountain Crews first few weeks in the field!

 

-Mary Cretney (Shadow Mountain Crew Leader of the Week)

Estes Crew

This week, the Estes crew was back with the trails division. Most of the trail crews were starting to do work on their summer projects rather than routine maintenance runs. This means that they hike to their work site and work in one place all day rather than maintaining the trail as a whole. On Monday and Tuesday, the Estes crew worked on the Lawn Lake trail. They helped to re-route a 100 ft. section of eroded and muddy trail. To do this, they built a 20 ft. log check drain, moved many big rocks and trees, removed sod and duff, and hid the old trail with logs and brush. On Tuesday, a large bull moose wandered into their work site and poked around for a few minutes before running off into the woods.

On Wednesday, the Estes crew worked at Lawn Lake trail again, but hiked a mile farther to help with a much longer re-route. This project had already been started, and all that was left to do was remove rocks and build rock reinforcement walls on the downhill side. They adopted a section of rock wall that will be left for them to build. On Thursday, the Estes crew went straight to Glacier Gorge Trailhead in the morning so they could find parking before the crowds came. They hiked up to a river overlook where large safety rocks had been placed near the edge to prevent people from getting too close to the cliff. There was a large gap in the rocks where they had been pushed over the edge. Along with two NPS trail workers, the crew spent the majority of the day finding big rocks in the woods, digging them out, and rolling them into place along the cliff. In total, they set four enormous rocks in place using rock bars, picks, and their hands.

The Estes crew wrapped up their week by completing the “Grand Slam” on saturday (Flattop Mountain, Hallett Mountain, Otis Mountain, and Taylor Mountain). The hike reached 13,185 ft., and was 20 miles long. At the end, they glacaded down Andrews Glacier and hiked back to the Glacier Gorge trailhead.

-Sal Sharp (Estes Crew Leader of the Week)

Rawah Crew

This week marked our second week of work on our home turf for the Rawah Wilderness crew. After a slightly longer commute past Chambers Lake, we began work on the Blue Lake trail on Monday. We worked through a mile cutting trees and digging drains before hitting an old logging road. There wasn’t much work to do on this section of the trail, so we were able to cover some easy mileage. After the road ended, it was back to work as usual. Besides the typical fallen trees and filled-up drains, we ran into a couple of very muddy patches which required digging new drains to try to dry up the area.
We made it about 3.5 miles up the trail, and in our fervor trying to make it to a river crossing just up ahead, we accidentally ended up working about two hours of overtime.
On Tuesday, we returned to Blue Lake to work further up the trail. Today, however, we were graced with the presence of our RMC supervisors Geoff and Tommy. It took us an hour to hike back up to where we finished yesterday. It was pleasant to warm up by hiking along the stream and admiring our work from the day before. Past the stream crossing, we encountered a number of very large trees which had fallen across the trail. Plenty of work for the crosscut saw. Before Geoff and Tommy had to hike back, we decided to trek up to a nice meadow for a little break. Geoff pointed out some pretty yellow flowers called glacier lilies and mentioned that they were edible, so of course we had to sample some.
After our break, Geoff and Tommy bid farewell, and the Rawah crew decided to use some of our overtime to hike all the way up to Blue Lake. Along the way, we ran into more and more snow patches covering the trail. Once we reached the lake, we went for a little swim. It was rather chilly, as could be seen by our vigorous jumping jacks after getting out. Hiking back, we realized that we wouldn’t really be able to do much trail work with the path buried under snow. This being the case, we worked up as far as we could before enjoying a long hike back to the trailhead.

Wednesday brought us to the West Branch trail, one of the most popular of the Rawah Wilderness. We ran into a number of hiking groups grateful for our work. Work on this trail was slow due to large, rocky drains. We think the drains on this trail haven’t been maintained for at least a year or two, which would explain why they are so packed with dirt and debris. Nothing too exciting happened today, other than the usual fantastic views of the Rawahs.

Thursday! The end of a good week of work. We were back at West Branch to work a bit farther up. The crosscut crew walked a mile or two ahead, but to their disappointment, they found no fallen trees, and so they helped out with digging drains. After our morning break, we found two projects to work on: closing down a large social trail, and re-installing a missing rock check. The rock work brought back memories from previous weeks building rock walls, although we were thankful we only had to find and place a single rock. After returning to the luxurious Stub Creek bunkhouse, we cleaned and sharpened our tools, and then crew-leader-of-the-week Jacob Ng gave a lesson on tree identification.

For the weekend, our crew split up. Some members took a trip to Moab, Utah for a sweet few days of hiking through mind-blowing rock formations of arches and towers. The others decided to hike from the Comanche Peak Wilderness down through Rocky Mountain National Park into Estes Park, where all of the crews will be reconvening for our midweek training. We experienced some navigational confusion, and ended up hiking an unintended route. Nevertheless, it was a great weekend of backpacking through a beautiful area. Sadly, it will be another two weeks before we get back up to the Rawahs for our first backcountry hitch, so stay tuned!
– Jacob Ng (Rawah Wilderness Crew Leader of the Week)

Kawuneeche Crew

Monday:  To get into the swing of week four, we started out by staining a few picnic tables we had built before the weekend and then took a field trip to the west side of the park to see some of the projects that had been completed in past years with our supervisors Bob, Chuck, and Wilson. We first stopped and looked at the old CCC mess hall near Lake Irene that had been refurbished by a previous RMC crews. Following a stop at the west side project shop, we then had lunch and went to see the ice house rebuilt by Bob and Chuck, and got a down and dirty lesson of how to lasso by Wilson.

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Jon whips the lasso into the air with gusto on his third attempt at capturing the elusive wooden horse. Sadly, the beast got away.

 

 

 

On the return drive home we came upon a motor cycle crash off trail ridge road, and had to quickly jump into action as we were the first responders to the accident.  After radioing in for help, some of us helped direct traffic around the scene while others grabbed the first aid kit and went down a twenty-five yard embankment to the crashed motorcyclist.  Luckily for all parties involved, the rider was not seriously injured and did not need immediate first aid.  We stood by and did what we could until the first park ranger/paramedic arrived, and then left the scene to clear the road while our supervisors stayed to direct traffic.

Tuesday:  For our second day of work of the week, we alternated between breaking down old picnic tables, sanding new boards, and assembling and staining new tables.  All in all we broke down twenty five tables, which was the easy part, and then assembled five masterfully crafted tables to be delivered to eagerly awaiting park staff.

Wednesday: Wednesday brought a change of pace for the crew, with the highly-anticipated arrival of shingles necessary to continue progress at the Liefer cabin.  After running out of shingles for the second story coverings last week, we were eager to continue work on the cabin and hit the project hard all day making great progress.

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Ashley takes control while Joe goes for the candid photo

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Detailed oriented Garret and Kyle focus in

Thursday:  To finish off week four we wrapped up the Liefer cabin project by finishing the remaining shutters that required shingles, and then installing them around the second story of the cabin.  We then broke down all of the scaffolding, packed all the equipment and tools, and cleaned the area of all debris.

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 What Garret and Tate lack in fashion, they make up in painting skills

 

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The crew with some of the NPS staff were involved

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The South and East sides of the finished Cabin with Ashley and Izzy collecting lose nails/screws

Boulder Crew

Sunday

As the teeth of a crosscut saw bite through a log, pulled back-and-forth between two sawyers, the saw begins to sing. It is a high-pitched, undulating noise, and we created that melody many times on Sunday, when we finished up our five-day workweek with crosscut saw field training and certification. We, as well as ten volunteers for the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance, learned how to properly use single- and double-bit axes, saw wedges (which hold open the cut, or “kerf,” while sawing), and of course the crosscut saws themselves. Everyone in the program received intermediate sawyer certifications. Now we can operate crosscuts without a supervisor, so long as we stick to cutting smallish fallen logs off the trail, known as “bucking” trees. We unfortunately can’t fell live trees, but this is admittedly a good thing. Nobody wants a flattened RMC crewmember.

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Lucas getting some serious velocity on a double-bit ax during crosscut training.

Monday

Monday was the only day we had off in a grueling nine-day stretch that began on the previous Wednesday. That didn’t mean we were content to relax at the Homestead, however. After a short stop at the Happy Trails coffee shop in Ned—which has quickly become our go-to coffee and internet joint—we headed down into Boulder Canyon to (appropriately enough) do some bouldering. Next, it was on into Boulder itself, where most of the crew hiked and/or climbed the Second Flatiron, a steep, slablike mountain, and Andrea utilized the internet at a coffee shop to finish up some important tasks. We shopped for groceries following the hike and then drove back to the Homestead, our headlights chiseling out a path for us through the dark stone of the night. We got back late and went to bed, tuckered out.

Tuesday

The new workweek began at Buchanan Pass, a pass on the Continental Divide and its corresponding trail near the northern boundary of the Boulder Ranger District. We split up into three subcrews. Brendan swamped for Ben, our Forest Service contact, removing some forty fallen logs from the trail that Ben cut out with a chainsaw. Lucas and Louisa had a rough time trying to refurbish a miry drain before moving onto others for the rest of the morning and afternoon; Ally, Andrea, and I (Ryan, this week’s Leader of the Week) spent the day clearing corridor with loppers and a small handsaw. All told, it was a reasonably productive day, although everyone admitted that the ten hours had seemed more like twenty. We were all sluggish due to the dastardly duo of a five-day workweek and one-day weekend.

 

 

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Ben surveying some downed trees.

Wednesday

The road from Kelly Dahl to Nederland is steep and serpentine, winding down from our campground into town a few miles away. We make the drive every workday, so we know the curves by heart. But today we were in for a surprise. Coming around a bend, we met a government vehicle cruising up the road. The driver? Ben, who gave us a quick wave and then blew past us, headed for destinations unknown. We later discovered out he had been called up for fire duty in Brian Head, Utah. Unsupervised and unsure of what to do with our day, we called him and learned that we were to return to the Rainbow Lakes trail and brush it out. So that’s what we did, hiking past all four lakes and clearing 1.5 miles of corridor on the way back to the trailhead. Then we dug some drains, put in a short rock wall, and closed off some trail. During a snack break, we searched for a dead moose purported to be decomposing at the third lake, but to no avail.

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A newly closed-off section on the Rainbow Lakes trail.

Thursday

With Ben gone, we slept in. There was no reason for us to get up early as no one would be at the work center when we arrived. Jon, Ben’s boss and our supervisor for the day, was going to meet us there at 8:30. Thus, we started our day after an extra hour of sleep and a leisurely morning. Our worksite was up at the Brainard Lake area. Louisa and I worked with Jon, as well as Jake and John, two Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance interns, to repair a handrail on a footbridge near Long Lake. I must say, it felt good to be working with wrenches again after weeks of using solely cutting and digging tools. Once we reached a good stopping point on the handrail, which we didn’t quite finish, we headed back to the Beaver Creek trail. That’s where Lucas, Ally, Andrea, and Brendan were using their newfound crosscut skills to buck eighteen fallen trees from the path. The day ended with some much-needed tool sharpening. We got back to camp at around 7:00, an hour later than usual.

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A group picture before work. Front row, from left: Andrea, Jake, Lucas, Ryan. Back row, from left: Louisa, Ally, John, Brendan.

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Andrea and Ally crosscutting a tree.

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Working on the bridge at Long Lake.

Friday

The weekend arrived on Friday, and we made the most of it. Brendan, Louisa, and Andrea headed to Boulder in the morning. There, Brendan and Louisa bought some new climbing shoes and dropped Andrea off with her mother, who had flown in from Puerto Rico to visit. Meanwhile, Lucas and I worked on some things back in Ned. Ally had gone home the night before to see friends and family, so by the afternoon there were only four of us remaining. We decided to cap off the day by climbing in Boulder Canyon.

Saturday

The Homestead is still chilly at 4:45 am, which was when Louisa, Brendan, and I grudgingly rolled out of the warm cocoons of our sleeping bags to go for a hike to Arapaho Glacier, a forty-minute drive away. The early start was ultimately worth it. We beat the crowds and summited South Arapaho Peak (elevation 13,397 feet) before eleven in the morning. The panoramic scene from the mountaintop was spectacular. It included a clear view of Winter Park, where Lucas was downhill mountain biking with a friend at that very moment. Come evening, Ally returned from an enjoyable stay at home, while Andrea continued to spend time with her mom in Boulder. Ally brought with her one of the most exciting purchases of the summer (except for a small bottle of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray, which has easily been our best investment). We had bought a miniature battery-powered projector on Amazon and had it shipped to her house, and now it was at the Homestead. We eagerly fired it up after eating. Sully was the movie of the night. The inaugural showing went well; there were only a couple minor hitches. And although the picture quality was subpar (this is a $60 projector, after all), we all agreed that it was a good buy. We finished the movie at around midnight and went to bed. In the morning, we would rouse ourselves and head to Estes for midweek, but for now we were content to sleep among the mountains we had called home for four weeks.

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Louisa and Brendan crossing a small stream flowing across the Arapaho Pass trail.

Until next time,

-Ryan Bodlak (Boulder Crew Leader of the Week)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Estes crew members Claire Gillett and Chris Rokusek along with crew leader Blake Crossland stand at the top of Andrews Glacier before glacading down it on feet, butt, and back.

 

Written by: Sal Sharp (Estes crew leader of the week)

In The Field: Week 3

Estes Crew

This week the Estes Crew changed things up from the normal trail work routine and joined Rocky Mountain National Park’s “Veg Crew” to help with a variety of projects. On Monday they helped restore the Bear Lake road reroute area. In 2012 one mile of Bear Lake road was rerouted away from Glacier Creek in order to prevent impacts to wetlands and riparian habitat, and the crew spent all day planting trees, grasses, forbs, and shrubs on the old road. With the new soil and vegetation, the road should begin to look like the surrounding habitat in a couple years!

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Working hard in the hot sun!

On Tuesday the crew worked on a similar project at the Aspenglen campground. One of the campsite’s restrooms was recently renovated, and the construction caused major erosion and soil compaction in the surrounding area, killing almost all of the vegetation. To help restore the area the crew planted over one thousand plants, which will help stabilize the soil and prevent further erosion!

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Wednesday was quite the day for the Estes crew! They were recruited by one of the park’s wildlife teams to resolve a sticky situation on the west side of the park. Over the winter two female moose and one calf somehow managed to get into one of the Kawuneeche Valley vegetation exclosures (a fenced off area used to keep wildlife from feeding on aspen and willow). It was the crews job to “herd” the moose and get them to exit the exclosure via a gate in the fencing. It was undoubtedly a hazardous task, but the crew went through a lengthy safety briefing and successfully got all three moose to leave safely and peacefully! Now the park can continue to monitor how vegetation grows in the valley in the absence of large herbivores, and the moose can roam the park freely. With the remainder of the day the crew planted trees at the Timber Creek campground to help regrow the forest that had been devastated by the mountain pine beetle outbreak.

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The crew lined the bank of the Colorado River to keep the moose from crossing to the other side.

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Crewmember Simbi Umwali planting a young lodgepole pine at the Timber Creek campground

Thursday! The crew spent the final day of the workweek using their trail work skills to help the veg crew build a rock retaining wall. The park designated a space in one of its utility areas to build a large garden (about a quarter the size of a football field), which will be used as a seed source for future restoration projects. The garden is divided into two tiers, and the crew was tasked with building a retaining wall between the tiers to prevent erosion. They spent most of the day gathering large rocks, and were able to build 15 feet of wall before the day ended. There’s still about 50 feet of wall to go, but they definitely gave the veg crew a good start!

 

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Crewmember Sal Sharp digging out a spot to place the final rock of the day!

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All smiles for the Estes Crew!

 

Next week the crew will be back with trails and will begin project work! Though working with the veg crew was a nice change of pace, the crew is eager to get back on the trails and continue learning new skills and perfecting the art of drain digging. Stay tuned for more fun from the Estes Crew!

-Blake Crossland (Estes Crew Leader

 

Rawah Crew

The Rawah Wilderness crew started off their week by finally moving up to the
Stub Creek Work Center, after two weeks of bunking with the Red Feather crew. The
crew was excited to move into their home for the rest of the summer, start working on
their own trail system, and most of all start watching some movies from the awesome
VHS collection at Stub.

The crew started working on the Link trail, and encountered a plethora of fallen
lodgepole pine trees. A couple of big storms this past winter may have caused the
larger than average number of trees, and kept the crew busy working on the cross-cut
saw. Within the first four miles of the trail, the crew cut out or removed a total of 161
trees!

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(Crew members Jordan Voght and Jacob Ng continue to buck out a fallen tree after placing a solid wedge.)

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(Crew member William Scarbro shows of his fashion sense and proper risk management, wearing both his hard hat and sombrero for maximum safety and style)

After spending two days working hard and cutting lots of trees on the Link trail, the crew moved onto the McIntyre trail on Wednesday. Working alongside the high waters of the creek, the crew cut out more trees and repaired or cleared out over 80 drains. The crew took advantage of working next to the creek by dunking in their heads to cool off during breaks.

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(Crew Leader Gus Anderson was extremely stoked to encounter a sweet single under-bucking cut with a built-in rest for the saw.)

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(Crew Leader Gus Anderson does some blister repair on crew member Jordan Voght’s stinky feet.)

The crew finished off their last day of work for the week on the Rawah trail. The crew worked hard all day, cutting out many more trees, digging plenty of dips and drains, and only got lost once for a little bit. The Rawah trail was by far the busiest trail the crew worked on this week, encountering two different hikers over the course of the day! Although we don’t get to see many people, the views, hiking, and wildlife more than make up for the lack of company.

Looking toward Wyoming

(Crew member Noah Landguth looks out towards Wyoming while taking a well deserved break)

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(The whole crew, minus photographer Jacob Ng, gets in some quick beauty sleep during their afternoon break)

It was an awesome first week in the Rawah Wilderness; this place truly is special and we all feel extremely grateful to call it home for the summer. We’re working hard, having fun, and loving life way up in our own little slice of heaven. That’s all from the Rawah Crew this week.

Over and out.

-Gus Anderson (Rawah Crew Leader)

Red Feather

This week the Red Feather crew worked on the Red Feather Lakes trails. Starting on Monday they worked at the Lady Moon and Molly Lake trails. Hiking about 10 miles total, they preformed maintenance and took note of what projects could be done to make the trails better for those using it.

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Shelby and Abby Construct a Stepping Stone Crossing on Lady Moon

On Tuesday, they took to adventuring on Mount Margaret trail and the back half of the Frog Pond trail. Where they preformed mostly maintenance it he trails. They hiked about 10 miles clearing drains and trails.

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Abby Using Her Pulaski Skills

On Wednesday, They traversed to Swamp Creek trail, then later that day they continued onto the front half of Frog Pond trail and the West Dowdy trail.  Traveling about another 10 miles, they finally got to crosscut some trees while preforming their maintenance.

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Strolling Down East Dowdy Trail in the Red Feather Trail System

On Thursday, they got to head back down to Big south trail where they worked about 5 miles into the trail. There they took the trees in the way and cut them down to size while preforming their regular maintenance on drains and trail clearing.

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Shelby Cutting a Downed Tree on Big South

Friday they took at trip white water rafting down the Poudre river. In the freezing water some members felt as though they were freezing and others decided to jump ship and swim a little bit. Overall Red feather had a productive week and hope to continue doing so until he future.

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Group Whitewater Rafting Featuring Connor—our guide

-Davina Spears (Red Feather Crew Leader of the Week)

Kawuneeche Crew

Monday

Morning was warmer than most early mornings had been so far in the season: the air lacked its usual chill. We first reported to the project garage, where we met Wilson, a seasonal employee who will be working with us on projects this summer. Wilson has worked for the National Park service for decades, and recently has focused on construction and historic building preservation.

With Wilson, we returned to the Leifer Cabin to resume “mothball” preservation work on the first floor.  By midafternoon, we had successfully finished chinking on the first floor plywood window coverings and front door covering.

Then we set up scaffolding in preparation for our work on the second floor. As a team, we worked together to assemble components. Then, we began measuring the second story windows for coverings. After, with Wilson’s instruction, we learned how to pattern the siding with shingles spaced in a way that mimicked the wall around where the coverings would be hung. We completed two shingled window coverings before our work day ended.

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The completed first floor of the cabin. Note the logs arranged on plywood to mimic the house’s original siding.

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Garret takes measurements in order to cut plywood window covering.

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A completed, chinked door covering

Tuesday

Once again, we drove to the Leifer Cabin. We worked on putting shingles on more plywood coverings for the second floor. We first cut plywood in the right window dimensions, then stained the plywood, then began attaching shingles with a nailgun. This is a labor intensive process that demanded careful, meticulous work, and thus took a long time to complete few coverings.

In the afternoon, we headed back to the projects garage. Wilson taught us to glaze windows, a process where individual glass panes are reattached to their original wooden sash after time and the elements have degraded the original glazing. Lastly, we learned how to cut glass in the right shapes and dimensions for window panes using class cutters.

 

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Kawuneeche crew members deaden nails on the back of a plywood covering.

Wednesday

In the morning, we finished measuring the upper story windows to make more coverings. We then cut more plywood, stained, and shingled. We climbed the scaffolding to attach the coverings. This process took most of the morning, due to its labor intensiveness. Later, we moved scaffolding around to other sides of the cabins and took more measurements to create more scaffolding. Late in the day, we ran out of shingles and had to place an order for more. The job will be finished next week when the rest of our necessary supplies arrive.

Thursday

On Thursday, our workday’s main task was completing five new picnic tables for employee housing in the park. We divided up into groups. The first group drove to “Tortilla Flats” to pick up parts from old picnic tables that had rotted wood but intact metal frames. The metal frames were removed with wrenches and the screws and nuts kept. These components would be used for the new tables. Another group began work on sanding fresh wooden beams to make the table and seat parts for the picnic tables. They used hand planers to created rounded edges on the beams.

We began assembling the benches with the separate parts. We used clamps to hold the components together while we screwed the new parts together. After each table was completed, some crew members started work on staining. Unfortunately a late afternoon thunderstorm prevented us from staining all the tables before the end of the day.

Week three brought new experiences and new skills to be learned. It was a good week, and after the weekend, we will be refreshed and ready for more.

 

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Wilson instructs crew members on the process for glazing historic windows

Thursday

On Thursday, our workday’s main task was completing five new picnic tables for employee housing in the park. We divided up into groups. The first group drove to “Tortilla Flats” to pick up parts from old picnic tables that had rotted wood but intact metal frames. The metal frames were removed with wrenches and the screws and nuts kept. These components would be used for the new tables. Another group began work on sanding fresh wooden beams to make the table and seat parts for the picnic tables. They used hand planers to created rounded edges on the beams.

We began assembling the benches with the separate parts. We used clamps to hold the components together while we screwed the new parts together. After each table was completed, some crew members started work on staining. Unfortunately a late afternoon thunderstorm prevented us from staining all the tables before the end of the day.

Week three brought new experiences and new skills to be learned. It was a good week, and after the weekend, we will be refreshed and ready for more.

Benches

Crew Members at work on benches

Staingin benches

Staining Benches

-Kyle Desrosiers (Kawuneeche Crew leader of the Week)

Shadow Mountain Crew

Checking in from the west side this week, otherwise known as the best side! On Sunday, we began our week by showing the Boulder crew the amazing village in which we live in here at Shadow Mountain. We went swimming, sunbathed by the dock, and then went out for some amazing and local pizza! It was quite the day.

On Monday, we went on an 11 mile trek through Doe Creek where we swamped and maintained the trail with our awesome Forestry friends, Kendrya and Amy. On the way up, we spotted a deserted and rustic truck in the middle of a pocket off the side of the trail. It was quite a random spot but nonetheless an awesome exploration opportunity.

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Will and Mary checking out the random and deserted truck found off of Doe Creek Trail.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we traveled to Kremmling in order to build log-checks in areas that have been heavily eroded by water at the Bill Miller Trailhead. The goal of the log checks was to slow down the water as it traveled down a rather flat trail in hopes of the water settling on the checks so the debris is able to settle and naturally refill the gullied out trail with soil.

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Putting in some awesome log checks.

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Will, Curtis, Elise, Mary, and Forest Service Employee Andrew Otter

After our workday on Tuesday, the Shadow Mountain Crew was rewarded with a feast of homemade pasta alfredo with broccoli made by yours truly, Anna. We then had an in-depth discussion about proper nutrition and diet led by crew leader of the week, Elise. In honor of the summer solstice on Wednesday, a BBQ was hosted by other members of the village where we enjoyed the beginning of the beautiful summer season and indulged in a plethora of delicious food.

We were rewarded on Thursday with not only the presence of Geoff Elliot but also the task of climbing Devils Thumb, a nearly 12,000 foot mountain, for a routine maintenance run and with the goal of summiting in order to check up on a previous project and its durability. We were blessed with a beautiful morning which was fitting since it was Mary’s 20th birthday on Thursday! After escaping a tremendously brutal afternoon storm, we were rewarded with homemade cake and cheesecake in order to celebrate Mary’s birthday! The celebration continued on Friday when we were blessed with the arrival of various other RMC crews who wanted to check out our sweet setup and bring Mary further gifts of appreciation! It was overall a great and productive week and we are so excited to be going on our first hitch next week!

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Views from the top of the Devils Thumb hike! It was quite the climb but luckily there wasn’t too much snow along the way.

-Elise Parker (Shadow Mountain Crew Leader of the Week)

Boulder Crew

Good day dear reader. This week was a nice deviation from the, now normal, weekly rhythm we had formed. After an extended weekend of mountain biking, hot springing, and cold water swimming in Steamboat Springs, we returned back to Homestead Ned (the name we affectionately call our home/campsite just outside of Nederland, CO) by Tuesday evening. We were surprisingly quite vacationed-out by Tuesday evening and ready to get back in the working groove.

Upon waking up for work at 6am Wed morning we immediately wished for the long weekend back, but shook off our vacation brains and quickly returned to work mode. At about 6:30am that same morning I remembered that we were to begin our “leader of the week” part of the program. “Leader of the Week” is where a different crew member steps up each week to take on additional leadership tasks; therefore, Brendan was volun-told that fine morning that he was to get everyone in the car by 7am, get to work, and lead our week’s projects (spoiler alert: he passed with flying colors).

This week we were headed to the Rainbow Lakes to close down some trail widening, build new tread (the walking surface of a trail), and put in a few check steps (rock steps meant to fill in eroded trail with new sediment). To throw even more variation in the mix, our fearless leader Geoff Elliot (RMC-CC Manager) joined us to try out his trail legs as well as make sure we were all still alive and well. We spent the entirety of the day digging extremely rocky water drains and narrowing the crisscrossing trail from about 10 feet wide to 2-foot-wide single track. Hopefully you can see the huge difference from the before and after pictures.

Thursday we moved further up trail to begin work that was very similar to the previous day’s project. We were joined this day by the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance (IPWA) interns, Jake and John. Once again, the extra hands were much appreciated. Ally, Andrea, Ryan, Louisa, and Brendan all tackled building new tread and putting up a fantastic rock wall for most of the day while I popped an excessive amount of rocks from new trail with the interns further ahead. To be frank, we kicked some major butt that day and got a ton done.

Friday we finished up our work form the previous day and bumped further ahead to close down more social trails (un-official trails made by hikers), install rock steps, and re-route a stream off of the trail. We finally made it to the Rainbow Lakes that day with high hopes of seeing the dead moose mentioned by a passing hiker; unfortunately, we did not find said moose, but dang, if we didn’t build some beautiful rock steps.

As I’m writing this on Saturday, we have just completed day one of our two-day crosscut saw training course. Crosscut saws are essentially those big, two person saws that you imagine when you think of old-school loggers in the Pacific Northwest. According to the Wilderness Act, the use of mechanized devices are prohibited in wilderness areas, therefore, one must use old-school crosscut saws in place of chainsaws. Not going to lie, you feel pretty dang cool using them. Today was all classroom work at the District Ranger Office in Boulder, so, needless to say, we’re pretty excited to get into the field tomorrow and use the saws.

Week 3 (almost) down, and one more to go until midweek! It’s hard to believe that we have not slept under a roof for a month now, but so cool to see how normal it has become. And the trail goes on!

Duffin' it upHighwayROCKWALLSSwingingworking on tread

Until next time,

-Lucas McClish (Boulder Crew Leader)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inaugural High School Leadership Corps!

Hi Everyone!

The last two weeks provided some new experiences to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy as we launched our new High School Leadership Corps! For those who are unfamiliar, this was an opportunity for 10 high school age students, all of which were from the Front Range of Colorado, to come up to live, work, and learn in Rocky Mountain National Park for 12 days. During these couple of weeks the HSLC crew members were exposed to several projects and different groups from both the National Park Service and the neighboring Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. In addition, each project day was supplemented by a development activity. Whether it be journaling every evening, learning about natural resource careers, or developing leadership skills, each day the high school youth had a little time committed to personal growth along with conservation projects.

After settling in on the first day, our first project was spent working with the re-vegetation crew where we planted nearly 1000 native species across two days around the Moraine Park Discovery Center and pulled a bunch of Cheatgrass. The area was significantly disturbed by a water line project last summer and was in dire need of restoration. This was a learning experience for everyone as we learned how much goes into restoring native species to natural habitat.

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Crew member look on as they learn how to properly plant various native grasses and other plants.

For the second project, we worked with the volunteer office on what they like to call a Trail Adventure Clean-Up. For the project, 14 of us worked together to help clean up the area around Lumpy Ridge. Because of all the traffic Lumpy Ridge receives and the satellite nature of the trailhead, it is conducive to trash being left behind. We spent the afternoon broken up into three groups walking around the various trails and the parking lot using the aptly named “clompers” to pick up trash we found. During our time before we got hit by the typical Colorado afternoon storm dropping gumball sized hail and  picked up 12 pounds of trash which entailed wrappers, cans, the sole of a a boot, and one toy giraffe.

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Grace, Grace, and Kayla showing off all the trash they found.

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From left to right: Dalton, Luc, Zeke, Quinn and Geoff up Lumpy Ridge with the clompers and trash buckets.

We wrapped up the first week by learning about wildfire and how the park works to mitigate fire danger naturally. One way fire mitigation occurs in Rocky is by  mechanically building slash piles. Slash piles are cone like structures that the fire crew uses to gather all of the fallen trees or branches in one central location to help prevent fires from moving too quickly through an area. Once these piles are constructed during the summer, the fire crew will utilize the wet and cold winter to manually burn them in order to mitigate future fires in the park. Getting to help with this project was fun as we turned it into a competition of who built the nicest piles would get first dibs on showering. Turns out all four of the piles we built were very sturdy so it was a toss up.

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Leader Geoff and crew member Luc working together to stabilize the slash pile.

 

 

Over the weekend, we stepped away from conservation work and explored some of the beauty Rocky Mountain National Park had to offer. This included traveling to the west side for a short hike, visiting the town of Grand Lake, and doing a sunset hike up to Dream Lake.

For the second week, we got to spend time doing both trail construction and maintenance with crews from the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the Roosevelt National Forest, the the trails shop in RMNP,  Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, and Headwaters Trail Alliance all of which are representatives of either the Forest Service or the National Park Service. During our time working with these groups we got a lot of work done! For two days we spent time withe the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and Canyon Lakes Ranger District on the Lions Gulch trail. This is one of the trails that was significantly affected by the 2013 floods. The two days we spent on Lions gulch we were able to finish a ton of work. This included:

  • Clearing three tree stumps from new trail
  • Felling two trees to create corridor
  • Installing five check steps
  • Constructing two retaining walls
  • Building three horse ramps
  • Digging two drains
  • Cutting 100 feet of new tread
  • Removing one large metal pipe deposited by floodwater on the trail

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On the next day we worked alongside the Rocky Mountain National Park trail crew as well as the  Conservancy’s Conservation Corps. On this day we helped with clearing brush from the trail corridor and covering up social trails that people had created over the years. This meant a lot of lopping of smaller trees and branches while also using fallen trees or logs around the area to cover those old trails. While this was much different work than we had done the couple days before everyone was very happy about the seven miles of trail we covered and getting to meet some new people and just generally getting to work in the park! One of the teams on trail even saw a moose!

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A mix of the HSLC and the RMC-CC at Bierstadt Lake.

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Grace moving some dead trees onto a social trail.

For our last project day, we traveled to the Fraser Valley to work on the Chainsaw Trail with the Headwaters Trails Alliance. The Chainsaw Trail is a unique trail to get to work on because it is part of a very popular mountain bike trails system in the area. This project was seen as frustrating yet fun as we were tasked with raising an existing board walk out of the mud, the extending it another 20 feet, and adding another 20 feet to the end with a turnpike. This took a lot of patience and some good hammering skills as we added 15 more boards each with four nine inch nails in them. Once we finished the boardwalk we focused our attention to the turnpike. The turnpike was interesting because we were responsible for installing another drain that ran through a culvert. A culvert  is a tube used to move water underneath the turnpike to prevent more water running into the newly fixed trail.

We finished up the last day of work with a stop at Dairy King in Grand Lake on our way back over to Moraine Park to learn about the old fur trappers of the area and make s’mores.

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Luke, Grace, an Kayla work to hammer in the boardwalk.

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The final product holding everyone up!

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Just a little s’more time together.

This being the first summer of the Rocky Mountain Conservancy hosting the High School Leadership Corps I think everyone involved had a great learning experience. Whether it was being in charge of waking everyone up for work or sleeping in a tent for the first time, we gained valuable memories and experiences that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Thanks to the parents, crew members, and to those whose projects we were able to assist with. We look forward to the opportunity to continue this program for years to come!

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The gang at the East Inlet! From Left to Right: Jordan, Brandon, Luc, Grace, Curtis, Zeke, Kayla, Grace, Quinn, and Dalton.

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After two long weeks, the parents and the crew members are reunited!

Last but certainly not least, for all of you driving around with Rocky Mountain National Park license plates in Colorado, you will be excited to know you helped provide this amazing opportunity through your donation to the Park!

Thanks for checking in on this exciting new program and have an excellent rest of your summer!

-Tommy Egland (High School Leadership Corps Leader)

 

 

In The Field: Week 2

Shadow Mountain Crew

Howdy everyone! Shadow Mountain crew just wrapped up an awesome week of work. On Monday, we trekked up the Roaring Fork Trail and continued developing our crosscut skills. It was steep going and, after cutting 25 plus trees, we had to turn around when we hit the snow line. We spent Tuesday morning at the monthly Sulphur Ranger District meeting at the Grand Lake firehouse, discussing safety and getting to check in with some of the forest service employees we’d met a week earlier at district orientation. After lunch, we got out into the field, spending the afternoon learning how to dig drains, clear brush, and re-tread trail on the Knight Ridge Trail. We had barbecue tofu sandwiches with sweet potato fries—an Owen family classic— for crew dinner Tuesday night. On Wednesday, we got to work with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew doing more crosscut work. We cleared sections of the Arapaho Pass Trail, High Lonesome Trail, and Strawberry Bench Trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

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Elise poses with a freshly sawed log

Thursday was an amazing way to end our work week. We started the day with a boat ride across part of Lake Granby to the Knight Ridge Trail, where we cut 118 trees off the trail! A few years ago, this section of the trail had been closed for a decade due to downed trees, so it felt especially rewarded to keep this part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) open to through hikers.

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Will shows off his Forest Service personal flotation device on Lake Granby

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Will + Izzy crosscut a tree off the trail

The crew is headed our separate ways for the weekend, to see family and friends across the state, but is planning to reconvene Sunday evening to swap stories over pizza. Until then, enjoy this photo of some of our friendly neighborhood moose, snapped from the canoe on Shadow Mountain Reservoir by none other than our own Curtis Hall!

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– Izzy Owen (Shadow Mountain Crew Leader)

Rawah and Red Feather Crews

Radwah spent a lovely week transforming Young Gulch off of the Poudre Canyon into immaculate trail. The Young Gulch restoration project is a multi-year trail construction that is being tackled by multiple volunteer crews. Trail designers flagged out a new line that weaves around the gulch drainage and the new trail is being designed with techniques that make it less susceptible to flooding and washout. On Monday, Nate, member of the Wilderness Restoration Volunteers, gave us the low down on the first mile and a half of trail and then set us loose to cut new tread and firm up sketchy edges with rock walls.  The week has enlightened our trail construction skills. Crewmembers learned how to create an armored ford—a section of trail that functions both as a drainage as well as passable biking surface.

Armored Ford Crew

Colin, Anna, and Jacob Pose by Their Stellar Armored Ford

We also had the opportunity to flex our rock wall creation fingers. On Tuesday, another volunteer named Nick, biker extraordinaire and rock wall magician, shared his expertise in the construction of the specialty features.

Davina and Shelby Wall

Davina and Shelby’s Rock Wall Creation

Gus, Zach, Anna, and Will stabilized a 17-foot section of tread with a MONSTER wall. They roughly calculated the completed feat to contain a whopping 136 cubic feet and 16,000 pounds of rock. The picture does not do it justice.

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Gus, Zach, Anna, and Will Lounge on Their Monstrous Rock Wall

We also dug approximately 1,000 feet of fresh tread and polished off 3,000 feet of pre-constructed trail. Proper Young Gulch tread should display at least 30 inches of width at a 5 percent grade.

Digging Frosh Tread

Digging Fresh Young Gulch Tread

Digging new tread also requires the removal of a copious arsenal of boulders. As we moved into completely untouched territory, these were often quite large. Abby and Jordan spent some time wrastling an unruly boulder out of the trail line.

Abby and Jordan Wrastle a Boulder

Abby and Jordan Vs. Boulder

As a result of the strenuous exertion, much of the half-hour lunch break was spent speed napping.

Lunch Nappers

Lunch Nappers

Young Gulch also sports a large amount of poison ivy and resultantly we had to wash off tools at the end of the day with a simple green solution. Zach has become a professional Pulaski scrubber.

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Zach, Professional Pulaski Scrubber

All in all, it was an extremely productive and satisfying week at Young Gulch and we anxiously await our next project week on the trail in mid-July.

Happy Trailers

Happy Radwah Campers

-Shelby Ahrendt (Red Feather Crew Leader)

Kawuneeche Crew

After a weekend chock full of hiking, hanging, and hammocking, the Kawuneeche Crew went back to work feeling refreshed and ready for another round of sawing and shuttering at the Liefer cabin. Tools in the truck bed, we followed Bob and Chuck, our NPS supervisors, out of the NPS Project Shop and made our way back to our historic worksite.

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Garret, deathly afraid of the sun, readies himself for a day of work before leaving the shelter of the truck cabin.

After learning the ropes last week, constructing the shutters for the lower windows of the cabin went smoothly and without incident (minus a few stripped screws here and there). Chuck was even confident enough in our abilities to let Jon and Tate try their hands at the power saw. With four window shutters successfully and beautifully constructed and installed, we headed home with our construction abilities sharpened and our chins held high.

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Garret and Tate brace a log slat in anticipation for Jon’s sawing brilliance.

After meeting Bob and Chuck at their office in the morning, we walked to the visitors center for a meeting for seasonal park staff. The meeting included overviews of different departments of the park and what projects they are working on over the summer. General work safety, including lightning safety, and a welcome talk by the superintendent were also parts of the meeting. Afterward, the crew returned for lunch with Bob and Chuck before heading back to the Leifer Cabin. We boarded up several more windows and began chinking between the logs of two planks which were already fastened to the cabin.

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Jon rolls up his paint suit sleeves in preparation for a plywood painting session.

After work, we took the opportunity to hike to the scenic, windy, and snowy Loch Lake trail. The hike was a nice break, and offered great views of Alberta Falls and snow topped mountains. We returned home to recharge for the next full day of work.

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Tate, Izzy, Jon, Garret, and Kyle stop for a brief picture after hiking up the Glacier Gorge trail at a breakneck pace.

During the morning time at Bob and Chuck’s office, we loaded 15 tubes of chink for the Leifer Cabin in Juan (the government truck) and a number of ladders to facilitate the chinking process. As we headed up to cabin, the drive was sunny but there were extreme gusts of wind at the Leifer Cabin. We finished boarding up the rest of the windows, including the large window at the back of the cabin that required five separate plywood and log pieces. Even with 15 tubes of chink, it ran out quickly. Fortunately, we were let off early and were able to fit in another hike in the evening to Cub Lake. Three members of the crew went on the pleasant hike, which featured lots of elk on the trail and two moose. The last day working on the Leifer Cabin for the week ended, the next day is back at McGraw Ranch for staining cabins.

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The newly shuttered Liefer Cabin in all of its rustic, impenetrable glory

The morning started a little early in order to fit in the weekly doughnut run before work. After our fill of doughnuts and checking in with Chuck, we drove back to McGraw Ranch to help Bill complete more of the painting and staining project on one of the historic cabins there. We pulled out and repainting storm windows, stained as much of the cabins as we could, and sanded and chipped old paint before repainting the windows and their sills. The day was a sunny and full day of work, but we were able to finish all of the windows and the stain the majority of three more walls. In addition to staining and painting, we took down the scaffolding and stored it near the main house at McGraw. The crew returned home tired, but ready for another busy weekend of exploring and hiking.

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Kyle, Jon, Tate and Ashleigh hone in on their respective painting projects.

For the weekend, we plan on hiking two fourteeners, Grace and Torres, after spending time in Boulder with several other crews.

-Garret Fox (Kawuneeche Crew Leader)

Estes Crew

It was another great week for the Estes Crew! Following a fun weekend of camping and hiking they started the week strong with a 12-mile maintenance run to Ypsilon Lake. Working alongside a park service trail crew they dug drains and brushed the trail corridor along the entire length of the trail, with the exception of the final mile, which was too snowy to do any work. The crew also got their hands on a crosscut saw for the first time! They learned some of the techniques used to “buck” fallen trees from the trail as well as some of the specific safety hazards of crosscutting.

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The morning routine- shoveling mule poop at the NPS trails facility.

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Crew Leader Blake Crossland crosscutting a large tree that had fallen across the Ypsilon Lake trail.

On Tuesday the crew joined over one hundred other NPS employees at a park-wide department training, in which they learned about the work various branches of the park are doing this summer. They also got to meet personally with Darla Sidles, RMNP’s superintendent! In the afternoon the crew dug drains on the popular Glacier Gorge trail, and even after the long 10 hour workday they still had enough energy to run a 5k with the Estes Park running club. After the run they got to enjoy a free dinner at the famous Stanley Hotel!

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The Estes Crew takes in the view on the Glacier Gorge trail.

On Wednesday the crew worked on the Bierstadt Lake trail with the kids from the RMC High School Leaderships Corps. With over 20 high schoolers, interns, and park employees working they covered over 6 miles of trail, cleared nearly 1,000 feet of brush, and decommissioned almost 30 social trails.  It was a great opportunity for the crewmembers to take on leadership roles and teach what they’d learned about trail maintenance to the high schoolers, and it was awesome to see the crew share their enthusiasm for trail work with everyone!

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The Estes Crew alongside the RMC High School Leadership Corps

Thursday! On the final day of the workweek the crew set out on a solo maintenance run on the Glacier Creek trail. They expected to do a lot of brushing, but the trail was unexpectedly clear of overgrown vegetation and they ended up sharing 3 shovels to dig 107 drains on just 3 miles of trail! It was an exhausting, yet rewarding way to end the week, and with all the practice the crew is finally beginning to master the “art” of digging drains.

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Ending the week at beautiful Sprague Lake

Next week the crew will be changing things up and working with the park’s Vegetation Crew to help remove invasive species and plant native vegetation in restoration areas. Stay tuned for more fun from the Estes Crew!

-Blake Crossland (Estes Crew Leader)

Boulder Crew

Monday

This week we get to work on a new trail, the East Portal to the James Peak Wilderness Area, near the Moffat Tunnel. It was highly washed out due to drainage issues and snow melt, so we would have our work cut out for us. Monday consisted mostly of rockwork, and man did this crew rock it! We collected large rocks in order build 5 rock steps. To top off our new steps, we hiked in 10 bags of gravel which would serve as backfill as well as several bags of field stones we gathered. Overall, we backfilled 12 feet of trail.

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Crew member Brendan and crew leader Lucas working on the rock steps. Check out the completed steps in Tuesday’s picture!

Tuesday

The rockwork continued to Tuesday as we built 6 more steps and backfilled 17 more feet of trail by hauling in 10 more bags of gravel and collecting much more field stone. While it may seem like rockwork never ends, it is a nice tradeoff for several days of brushing trails. We finished off the day by beginning to reroute a stream off the trail.

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Crew members work together to lift a large rock for the steps

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Wednesday

We were halfway through a challenging week of work, but moral was high! As commonly heard on the commute to work, it was in fact “another day in paradise.” Wednesday began by us splitting into two groups. Louisa, Andrea, and I began brushing a 1.25 mile section of trail while Lucas, Ally, and Ryan finished up the stream reroute by digging 50 feet of drainage ditches and digging one new drain. After meeting up for lunch, we switched up groups. This time Lucas, Louisa, and I closed off 40 feet of social trail by replanting dead trees and covering the rest up with brushy limbs and rock. Meanwhile the rest of the crew continued brushing up the trail. We finished out the day by completing the 1.25 mile section of brushing and dunking our heads in a stream.

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Like I said, it was a challenging week! Crew Members Andrea and Ally (from left to right) enjoying a much needed midday break

Thursday

Thursday was an unusual day for the boulder crew. We headed into the Boulder Ranger District Headquarters for a safety briefing on hypothermia, hyperthermia, and lightning strikes. Our Forestry Service (FS) Supervisor, Ben, decided we should responsibly arrive at 8:30am for the 9am meeting. Good thing because he was misinformed and the meeting actually started at 8:30. Nice call Ben! An hour of learning later, the Forestry Service kindly gifted each of us with a “Boulder Ranger District” food thermos and sent us out for a fun day of work. We were tasked with making two signs to mark confusing sections of trail in the James Peak Wilderness, brushing a 1-mile section of trial, and completing a hike up to Crater Lakes. Upon our journey to Crater Lakes, we began to encounter snow and the well-worn trail became quickly skewed. Thanks to some expert navigation by our crew leader, Lucas, we made it safely to the half-frozen alpine lakes. After sliding down snow drifts, a quick snack, and a crew photo op, Lucas and I decided we should go for a quick swim. Good thing we were well informed on hypothermia! Since we only get to shower once a week, any opportunity to get in the water is greatly appreciated, no matter how cold it may be. After drying off and warming up, we continued back down the trail to install our last sign and head back to camp. Along the way, Lucas and Louisa practiced being good stewards and packed out 3 bags of (dog?) poop. By the end of this great day, we had happily completed the primary task given to us by Johnathan, our higher-up FS supervisor, which was to have fun!

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Crater Lakes Hike (left to right: Andrea, Louisa, Brendan, Lucas, Ally, and Ryan)

The Great 5 Day Weekend

Friday marks the start of a 5-day weekend for Boulder Crew! Due to crosscut saw training next weekend, we were graciously given Monday and Tuesday off in order to compensate for the time. Friday morning began in a local coffee shop in Nederland to get some necessary work done. Before some crew members parted ways on Friday, Lucas took me, Louisa, and Ryan rock climbing in Boulder Canyon. Sadly, Ally returned home on Thursday night to be with family for the Father’s Day weekend and Andrea was being studious and diligently studying for an upcoming chemistry test. After a fun time climbing, Louisa and Ryan also parted ways to be with family. And then there were three! The remainder of our normal weekend is to be filled with laundry, showers, exploring Mud Lake Open Space, as well as a day trip to Grand Lake. When the rest of the crew returns on Sunday, we plan on spending our extra days off in Steamboat Springs, CO mountain biking and relaxing in the Strawberry hot springs. Sounds like a great way to end the week to me! Till next week…

-Brendan Calhoun (Boulder Crew Member)

In the Field: Week 1

Boulder Crew

Sunday, 6/4

Sunday morning, we woke up bright and early at Moraine Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park and broke camp. We said our goodbyes to the ambitious, early risers and made our way to our new home in Nederland, CO. We met our National Forest Service contact, Ben, at the Nederland Work Center at 9am. The Work Center is where we are supposed to be taking showers and doing our laundry each week; unfortunately, it seems that we are coming into the Work Center situation a little behind as the last RMC Boulder County Crew was blamed for most of the previous messes. We often feel as if we are walking on egg shells as we maneuver around and use the facility, scared to make messes or leave anything disturbed. This aside though, we are extremely grateful to have a free shower each week and our doing our best to restore the name of the Boulder County Crew as the “Cleanliest Crew in the West”. The rest of our day consisted of running errands (shopping, laundry, the much needed showers) and settling in to our new campsite and home at the campground “Kelly Dahl, which we have come to affectionately call “The Homestead” or “Club Ned”, as some crews have called it in the past.

Monday, 6/5

We woke up bright and early once again in order to meet our camp departure time of 7:00am, sharp. We were a little slow moving as we were still hashing our our morning routine, but we all 6 of us were jammed in a truck and on our way just in time. Upon arriving at the Work Center, we learned that our project for the week would be a trail named “Ceran St. Vrain”; yes, it is a very odd, foreign name for a trail. Supposedly it was named after an early pioneer, fur trader, and militia leader (an informational sign and quick Wikipedia search informed me of this information, give it a try).

The trail was supposedly in pretty rough shape a week or two ago due to all of the downed trees; however, thankfully, a crew had gone through prior to our arrival and cut out the majority of the trees blocking the trail. Our task for the week was to repair some failing rock walls, restore degraded tread, clear the corridor (the walking space of the trail), and restore blown drains (structures which help water run off the trail).

We split into our crew in half to work on two different rock walls (I, Ryan, and Brendan on one and Ally, Louisa, and Andrea on the other. I promise we did not intentionally split ourselves up based on gender…). It was a fun first project to figure out the mechanics of a rock wall and haul huge rocks around the trails and slopes. Included in this rock work was the task of moving a near 1-ton boulder off of the trail; this was a fun test of our problem solving skills and understanding of physics. We finished up day one re-digging about 36 drains and restoring a section of degraded tread.

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Tuesday, 6/6

Work Tuesday encompassed, well, a whole lot of lopping (cutting out branches and brush using loppers). We spent all day cutting and working our way down the trail. Needless to say, we got a mad triceps workout. That day we cleared about 1 mile of trail (the total length of trail being 1.9 miles, for reference).

Wednesday, 6/7

Wednesday was consumed with more corridor clearing and restoring some degraded tread (the surface of the trail in which you walk on). We brushed about a mile of trail, re-doing some areas we didn’t clear thoroughly enough (give us a break, it’s the first week). For the other half of the day, we worked collectively to re-grade some areas of tread which were either pooling water or way too slanted. It felt good to get a break from lopping and also to get back to tread work, it gives much more room for creative interpretation.

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Thursday, 6/8

Thursdays are our last day of the work week since we are working 10-hour days (7am-5:30pm, Mon-Thurs). Upon arriving at the Work Center in the morning, we learned that we would be having two interns joining us from the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance (IPWA). The two extra set of hands from the interns (Jake and John) were much appreciated after a long, but rewarding first week of work. So, with the extra help we set out to finish up on the Ceran St. Vrain trail. Our lingering tasks included: digging the rest of the drains, finishing the corridor clearing, and completing our tread restoration work.

We, surprisingly, finished all of the trail work a little early, thus we headed back to camp and sharpened our tools to fill the rest of our allotted work time for the week. We consequently rewarded ourselves with a dinner of tofu teriyaki (cooked by our in-house chefs, Brendan and Ryan) and then with a post-dinner snack of pizza at a shop in Nederland.

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The Weekend

As I write this post on Friday morning from a quirky bookstore coffee shop in Nederland, our current, tentative weekend plan is to take it easy and explore the funky town of Nederland today, hike Twin Sisters in Rocky Mountain National Park with a few of the other crews on Saturday, and re-stock/catch up on everything in Boulder on Sunday.

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Closing Thoughts

It feels as if we are slowly beginning to get in our rhythm of life here. Our days usually consist of waking up at 6am, working until 5:30pm, cooking, eating, and washing dishes until about 8pm, carrying out a few camp chores until about 9pm, and lastly catching a few pages of a book before dozing off in our cozy tents and sleeping bags. Though this may seem hectic, it is so pleasant, at least for me, to be on such a set, consistent schedule. Back in “normal life” there are so many things vying for your attention: cell phones, internet, social media, etc., but out here, we are forced to focus on the tasks at hand and the few people around us. Although this type of work and lifestyle may not be for everyone, or even sustainable long-term, it is very good to be here now.

Until Next Week!

-Lucas McClish (Boulder Crew Leader)]

Rawah and Red Feather Crews

Red Feather and Rawah Training Week

Red feather and Rawah joined forces for training week to create the 12-person mega crew,“Radwah”. On Sunday, we all trundled up the Red Feather Lakes region to stay in the ranger district bunkhouses, one officially named the “Hunker Bunker” and the other self-deemed the “Hodge Podge Lodge” when we decided it needed an alliterate name as well. We spent Monday and Tuesday cross-cut training with Forest Service Rangers Chris and Matt. They expertly instructed us in both the theory of crosscutting,

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Ranger Chris Instructs on Crosscut Saw Use

as well as the field practice techniques.

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Red Feather Crewmembers Abby and Stephanie Practice Their Crosscutting Skills

Davina developed a particular vendetta towards a log while learning to limb with a Pulaski and demonstrated that crosscut saws are only mildly essential.

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Davina Practices Pulaski Use

On Wednesday we got to exercise our tread-cutting skills in the development of a new trail out of Young Gulch that was double destroyed by both the 2012 fire and 2013 flooding.

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Crewmembers Colin, Zach, and Anna Cut Tread on the Young Gulch Trail

In the evening we enjoyed an ice cream viewing of the intensive hazard tree recognition and injury mitigation video. Gus utilized the opportunity to test out his new footbath.

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 Radwah Watches Hazard Tree Video

On Thursday, Radwah crewmembers learned how to dig stellar drains at the Big South Trail. And Ranger Chris headed the construction of a rockwall to stabilize a section of washed-out tread.

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Forest Service Member Chris Instructs in Rockwall Construction

It was a feat of engineering excellence.

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Completed Rockwall

Friday was spent back at Young Gulch, edging the trail construction further up into the canyon.

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Young Gulch Trail Construction

The Red Feather Lakes region is also chalk full of fun activities to tackle during Radwah’s hours off trail. The lakes are prime for fishing. The trails are perfect for mountain biking.

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Crewmembers Hoist Their Bikes After a Victory Mt. Margaret Summit

And several of us even paid a visit to the local Buddhist Stupa!

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Red Feather Stupa

All and all, it’s been a great kickoff to a summer of trailwork!

-Shelby Ahrendt (Red Feather Crew Leader)

Shadow Mountain Crew

Shadow Mountain crew here, checking in from the beautiful Grand Lake, CO!! On Sunday, we trekked over Trail Ridge Road to our new home on the west side of the Rockies. With help from former RMC-CC rockstar Amy Sullivan, the crew settled into our bunkhouses. We started orientation on Monday with a tour of Shadow Mountain village, teambuilding activities, discussions about safety, lessons on radio use, and even got to meet the pack llamas! We also created our crew contract, which included our goals and expectations for the summer. We spent Tuesday at the Sulphur Ranger district orientation, which was an awesome opportunity to meet a lot of Forest Service employees and see how our work connects with other groups within the district, such as the timber, fire, and wilderness crews.

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Sulphur Ranger District Orientation at the AA Barn

Afterwards, we feasted on a truly delicious chicken pasta salad, lovingly prepared by our very own Mary Cretney. The crew participated in crosscut saw training on Wednesday and Thursday, getting the chance to practice our skills in the field on the Roaring Fork trail.

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Crew members Mary + Anna work to debark a tree before crosscutting

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Crew members Will + Curtis crosscut their first tree!

We had our first crew lesson on Thursday night, discussing gender, pronouns, and allyship. On Friday, we started our weekend off with an epic journey via rowboat from the village across the Shadow Mountain Reservoir into downtown Grand Lake and explored town. That’s all for now – we’re looking forward to getting out on the trails for some hard work this upcoming week!

-Izzy Owen (Shadow Mountain Crew Leader)

Kawuneeche Crew

Sunday

On a bright, sunny Sunday morning, we left Moraine Park. The Kawuneeche group was the last to leave the park, as our housing was only a few minutes away by car. We pulled off the main road onto a dusty, narrow dirt path.

Waiting at the cabins was Bob Maitland, one of the park’s historic preservationists. He issued us each keys and we signed contracts: the cabins are ours until the end of the season. Our three cabins stand in a cluster on the hills, surrounded by pines. Each has brown paint with green trim, each in a slightly different architectural style. The cabins have enough bedrooms for us to each have our own, and full bathrooms and kitchens in each. A hodgepodge of furniture and a random assortment of kitchen utensils can be found in each. It’s incredible thinking about the legacy of all those who have stayed in these cabins. One former resident was the first female federal judge to sentence a man to death. She left a bear mural in a closet with one of her girlfriends. It can be seen to this day.

Monday

Training

Each day the Kawuneeche Crew begins work at 6:30. We report to the Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s cultural preservation office, where Bob Maitland and Chuck Tubb work. Their office has a large garage and workroom, filled with tools and supplies. Bob and Chuck have both worked for the park for years and have had backgrounds in construction. Most of our summer work will be related to construction, a big part of cultural preservation and restoration.

Monday was dedicated completely to training and orientation. As seasonal volunteers of the Conservancy, our crew had to attend orientation sessions alongside other seasonal workers outside of our program. The sessions covered the park’s missions; these included commitments to the preservation of biodiversity and also the park’s bequest of cultural value. Other sessions led by permanent park employees discussed health and safety, methods by which volunteers can take a first hand approach to helping preserve wildlife, and information about the proper procedure to undertake in the event that a historic object, such as a Native American artifact, is found.

After the orientation sessions, Chuck issued each of us sets of all kinds of construction tools, hard hats, tool buckets, and tool belts. We also met “Juan”, a U.S. government vehicle that our crew will get to drive for work purposes this summer. Juan is a 1994 Ford F350 with 70,000 miles, two-wheel drive, and a huge truck bed.

We ended the day with a nice trail run as a crew. Our cabins back right up to several dirt trails. In the woods we saw elk, chipmunks, and crossed several streams swelling their banks with snowmelt.

Tuesday

Our cabins next to Moraine Park are only a fifteen minute ride from Bob and Chucks office and the construction headquarters of the conservancy. The truck we will be using to drive to work is a 20 year old government Ford F-350, which has a radio that can’t turn off and remains at the same volume. The only thing we can change is the channel. Our first work site is near the head of the Longs Peak trail, up highway 7, and is a historic building we are “mothballing”, so we will be boarding up windows. This building is not currently in use by the park, but it needs to be preserved. Bob said that they will contract workers for the roof. We may be using and setting up 30 foot scaffolding.

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The morning started with our first job assignment of peeling logs for the Leifer cabin with draw knives and sanders. The log peeling lasted all day, since there were 75 total logs to peel and sand. In between peeling logs we had the opportunity to tour a tower in the back of the Leifer Cabin property that is operated by NEON, a climate data collection non-profit. We met the representative who explained the data collection process, the use for all of the tower’s monitors, and the goals of NEON. The sensors for CO2 are so sensitive our short time beneath the tower was picked up in the data.

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Once the logs were peeled, dropped off at the Leifer Cabin, and we waited for an hour to make sure our work was done, we returned to our cabins in time for an evening elk walk. We were able to see several new elk calves with their radio-collared mothers.

Wednesday 

Already getting used to the early mornings, Wednesday’s work seemed to fly by. After loading up Juan with the necessary supplies, we followed Bob and Chuck through the crowds of Estes Park to McGraw Ranch, a historic property donated to the park that is nestled in wilderness behind Lumpy Ridge. There, under Chuck’s experienced direction, we learned how to assemble, level, and secure scaffolding for our upcoming work on a cabin in much need of a fresh stain. Bill Peterson, the volunteer caretaker of the Ranch, then gave us a tour and the detailed history of the former dude ranch and its many inhabitants.

After the time consuming task of setting up scaffolding, we left the ranch to transport materials to Liefer. Then, we hauled a few picnic tables in trucks from the park back to the McGraw ranch. We were already learning new skills and making concrete progress. By Wednesday, we had gotten into the rhythm of early mornings and 10 hour days.

Thursday

Since we work four day weeks and have three day weekends as Conservation Corps volunteers, Thursday is our Friday. That morning, we set out earlier than the other days in order to make a stop at a local and well-loved Estes Park doughnut shop to buy breakfast for ourselves, as well as Bob and Chuck.

We headed out to the old McGraw Ranch, where we had previously set up scaffolding. Our main task for the day was helping Bill re-stain and paint one of the historic cabins, the home of the ranch’s owner and his family in time gone by.

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Before we could begin staining and painting, we had to remove storm window screens and scrape peeling paint. Then we repainted the frames of the windows white, the frames of the screens green, and commenced the largest task: staining the side of the wooden log siding.

We climbed up on scaffolding in order to cover the 15 foot tall sides of the cabin and using brushes restained it in a fresh maple color. We also filled in a few holes made in the side of the cabin by birds and other wildlife, securing it for preservation.

Late in the afternoon, Bill came by the bring us ice cream, and we took a break to enjoy the fruits of our work and the beautiful scenery of the ranch.

Weekend Plans

The majority of the crews, including four members of Kawuneeche, climbed the Twin Sisters trail to the peak. The hike was warm and sunny but the time at the peaks included a brief snowball fight and the construction of a temporary snowman.The mountain provided an impressive view of Longs Peak, and we could even spot the Leifer Cabin site in the valley below. The hike was a good start to a weekend and we look forward to exploring Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding areas on future weekends.

Estes Crew

After moving into their housing near downtown Estes Park on Sunday the Estes Crew began their first week in the field with the National Park Service (NPS). They arrived at the trails shop early on Monday and started the morning as NPS trail workers do– by shoveling horse and mule poop, loading it in wheelbarrows, and dumping it into a pickup truck. Some would say it’s not the most pleasant way to start a day, but the crew found it to be quite relaxing and a good time to catch up and meet with some of the park service trail workers.

The rest of the morning and much of the afternoon consisted of NPS department training where employees from various departments within Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) spoke about their path to becoming RMNP employees, what their department does, and how it relates to the park service mission. Departments included the wilderness office, trails, search and rescue, wildlife, resource management, and interpretation. It was an awesome learning experience and a great way to learn about all the operations going on within RMNP. For the rest of the afternoon the crew went on a short maintenance run up the Twin Sisters trail and learned more about digging drains and how they help maintain a sustainable trail. The crew was also introduced to their government vehicle– a 1996 Ram pickup 6-pack with an extended bed that runs on propane. Yes, propane. It’s not the most beautiful thing on the road, but the crew embraced it as their own and named it Jenny (after the women whom the famous “Rocky Mountain Jim” was in love with).

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Crewmembers Claire Gillett, Chris Rokusek, and Sal Sharp (left to right) follow NPS trail worker Marika on their first maintenance run.

On Tuesday the crew once again began the day shoveling poop (this is how they begin every morning), and spent the rest of the day in “Search and Rescue Tech 3” training with the RMNP climbing rangers. The training familiarized the crew with search and rescue (SAR) equipment and taught them how SAR’s are conducted logistically. They also learned how to package and transport patients and how to navigate in the backcountry using a map, compass, and GPS. The training was very hands-on and included scenario-based training in which they arrived at the search and rescue headquarters and conducted a rescue as it would be in the real world. By completing the training the crew can now volunteer to go on real search and rescues in the park!

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Search and rescue training with other NPS employees

Wednesday was the crew’s first full day of trail work. They went on a maintenance run on the Aspen Brook trail with MegEllen Kimmett, a current NPS employee and former RMC-CC crew leader! They set out with loppers and hand saws and cleared nearly 7 miles of trail from encroaching brush. They quickly learned that 10 hour days are indeed as long as they sound and went home completely exhausted. Nonetheless, they still enjoyed spending the day outside and getting familiar with trail work.

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Crewmember Sal Sharp brushing on the Aspen Brook trail

Thursday! On the crew’s final day of their workweek they were entrusted to go on a maintenance run without NPS supervision, and they sure didn’t disappoint! They worked on the Bierstadt Lake Trail, a trail they’ll continue to work on for much of the season, and cleared brush from about 5 miles of trail and dug about 80 drainages.

The crew ended up working all the way to Bear Lake, and the most interesting part of the day came when the crew took the “park and ride” shuttle from the Bear Lake trailhead back to the Bierstadt Lake trailhead where their truck was parked. It was quite the site to see 5 sweaty and dirty interns riding a bus, trail tools in hand, with a bunch of tourists!

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End of the day commute (Left to right: Simbi Umwali, Claire Gillett, Sal Sharp, Chris Rokusek)

All in all it was a great first week in the field! The crew is still adjusting to early mornings and long work days, but they’re enjoying every minute of it and look forward to getting back to work on Monday. Thursday’s sunset atop Trail Ridge Road was the perfect way to end the week.

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Amazing sunset on Trail Ridge Road

-Blake Crossland (Estes Crew Leader)