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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

 

Off to the Work

Last week came in like a lion and out like a lamb. All thirty crew members joined the six crew leaders for a week of training and orientation and then left after a whirlwind of activity for their respective locations.

After a day filled with people checking in on Monday and picking up their gear and uniforms, Tuesday started with a morning in the office with orientation activities, team-building exercises, and preparation for the season.

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Simbi gets to know the crews by sharing something about herself.

In the afternoon, the Conservation Corps was fortunate enough to get new boots to kick off the season (pun intended). A big thank you to the Warming House for their continued support and generosity in making sure the Corps is comfortable and prepared for a summer season on their feet.

 

On Wednesday, we had the USFS come in to guide a Defensive Driver training to ensure everyone was prepared to drive federal vehicles this summer. After a morning in the classroom, the National Park Service helped facilitate a trails training in Rocky Mountain National Park. This involved tool use, work safety, and the basics surrounding trail maintenance. A big thank you to our USFS and NPS partners for their help on Wednesday!

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RMC-CC direct their attention toward NPS staff for Trails 101 training.

Thursday started out with a history class led by Estes Park Historian Laureate and Conservancy Board Member, Dr. Jim Pickering. Dr. Pickering helped place the Conservation Corps in the historical legacy of stewardship work and land protection in the Estes Valley.

When the crew returned from their time with Dr. Pickering, the crew leader stepped in to lead some specific training surrounding preparedness in the back-country, team dynamics, camp cooking, and Leave No Trace. IMG_3725

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Boulder and Red Feather Lakes Crews review WhisperLite Operation for Backcountry Meals.

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Estes Crew brainstorm meal ideas while sampling the crew leaders’ essential back-country spices.

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The Boulder Crew works through a teambuilding exercise.

Friday morning, we completed our crew pictures for the season and then the crews went off to complete their internship requirements surrounding goal-setting and self-evaluation.

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2017 RMC-CC Crews

 

On Saturday, the crews hit the field for their first day of trail work on National Trails Day! The project was in Moraine Park Campground on a livery trail. With 41 total volunteers, we were able to help the Park decommission hundreds of square feet of social trail, install over a dozen log checks, and help retread nearly 100 feet of eroded trail surface!

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With Training and Orientation Weeks behind us, the crews are heading out into the field for their first week of work alongside the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service. Stay tuned next week for updates from the field!

They’re Arriving!

Last week the crew leaders and I spent some time going over season logistics, meeting our agency partners, developing leadership skills and self-awareness, and establishing a vision for the season.

Monday we spent the day reviewing Conservancy expectation, going over training materials surrounding gender inclusivity and diversity, and sorting through gear. That’s not to say we didn’t have an opportunity to get outside and practice communication and tent-building skills with a series of blindfolded tent exercises.

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Shelby, Red Feather Crew Leader, wrestles with the rainfly during the blindfold tent build.

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Blake, Estes Crew Leader, finishes up his blindfold tent build.

Tuesday focused on developing self-awareness about personal skills, leadership tendencies, and areas of improvement. This was coupled with a visioning exercise, where the crew leaders developed there shared mission for the upcoming season. To break up the day, crew leaders got outside for a game of ninja before beginning an afternoon of vehicle training.

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Crew Leaders Gus and Garret face off in Ninja

Wednesday centered around meeting with the agency partners and liaisons. This is the first opportunity for the crew leaders to meet with the National Park Service or USDA Forest Service staff they will be working with for the summer. It provides a time for the crew leader to get to know the agency folks, project planning to occur, and logistics/expectation setting to take place.

On Thursday, after a three-days of office work, the crew leads hit the trail for the day completing twelve miles round-trip on the North Fork Trail out of the Dunraven Trailhead. This allowed us to look back on some of the work completed by the RMC-CC in years past and get a taste of USFS and NPS trail systems. Initially, this was intended to be an overnight, but because of poor weather forecasts we cut it to a day. The best part…we had the trail all to ourselves!

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Blake, Shelby, Izzy, Gus, Garret, and Lucas (Left to Right) enjoy a rare quiet day on the North Fork Trail.

After a long weekend in Estes, the crew leaders are back at it today welcoming their crews to Moraine Park Campground and gearing up for a summer full of conservation work! Stay tuned next week for updates on the Crew Orientation Week and National Trails Day before the RMC-CC head out to the field for the summer.

Applications for 2017 are LIVE!

Are you looking for an opportunity to give back to the environment by completing conservation work in the beautiful Colorado Rockies? Do you know someone who might be?

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If so, this is the opportunity for you! The Rocky Mountain Conservancy – Conservation Corps has posted applications for the 2017 season. The Conservation Corps provides youth (ages 18-23) with an opportunity to spend a summer living in Northern Colorado gaining skills and an understanding of on-the-ground conservation methods alongside the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service!

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This is a great opportunity for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, is interest in conservation-related careers, or just wants to do something unique and fun during the summer. During the season, youth are enrolled as interns and provided with on-the-job skills training, leadership development opportunities, and educational programming to empower interns for future success.

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To find out more about this great opportunity, check out https://rmconservancy.org/learn-us/rocky-mountain-conservation-corps/.