CCC BACKCOUNTRY TRAIL CREWS
The California Conservation Corps (CCC) Backcountry Trails Program has been at it for 36 years supplying trail crews to serve in America’s parks and forests. From Yosemite National Park to Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the program really covers some ground. Applicants range from 18-25 years old and sign on to this motto: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions…and more!”
In 2012 I spent 5 months living in a 2-person tent (awesome!) and working on a CCC Backcountry Trail Crew in the Stanislaus National Forest. I can’t in any succinct way explain what drew me to the program. All I can say is that I had an irresistible desire to experience wilderness. More than that though, I wanted to give myself completely to something greater than myself – the forest and community of the 18 people I lived and worked with during my season 2. Through this experience I went from the lowest point in my life to the highest, literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, I went from the Las Vegas valley to the Sierras! But beyond that I transformed from weakness, depression, and constant angst to an extraordinary strength, motivation, and peace. It was a time when I found hope anew and realized that there is still good in the world. Such an experience is impossible to quantify, yet undoubtedly valuable. All made possible through this underfunded and little known CCC Backcountry Trails Program.
I went to visit a Backcountry Trail Crew this summer that was working in the Trinity Alps Wilderness of Shasta-Trinity National Forest. One of the leaders of my crew, John Goodwin, was leading another and I wanted to say hello because I was in the neighborhood. John has been leading Backcountry Trail Crews for over 20 years. The following story is about that trip – the adventure, the place, and the trailwork that makes so many of our outdoor adventures possible.
After a 600 mile drive from Los Angeles to the trailhead, 12 miles of which were off-road in my little Toyota sedan, I geared up and started hiking Boulder Lake Trail towards the crew’s camp. The first thing I realized was that the poor air quality I was attributing to nasty California smog was, instead, smoke - smoke so thick and foggy that you could taste it! Then 100 yards from the trailhead, I was startled by the sound of something big and fast running off the trail and into the bushes. I figured it was a bear (which I later verified by looking at the tracks) and it dawned on me…I’m alone in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar creatures. So, kind of worried about bears and fire and my own shadow, I somehow mustered the courage to keep trekking. As I was hiking,I began singing and shouting as I walked in order to give the next bear a heads up!
My goal for the day was to blitz my way all the way to the Crew’s camp. I arrived at the halfway point, Boulder Lake, about 1 hour before it got dark. Still nervous and on the edge I decided to play it safe and make camp, leaving the rest of my hike for the following morning. I put up my tent, set up mypad and bag, and verified what I already knew – I had the whole lake to myself. One part of me was really excited for the solitude, and the other afraid. Anyhow, I wasted no time getting in my birthday suit and going for a swim. I was baptized by the Trinity Alps.
Still feeling like prey on alert for a predator, I proceeded to prepare my supper - good ol’ l Mac-N-Cheese. As evening set in, I began to calm and reconnect with my primal, intuitive self. I improvised a short piece of paracord to hang my food, I created a noise maker to keep in my tent to ward off wildlife (a hardhat and tent stake combo), and I crawled into my tent for my first night alone in bear country. I can humbly say that never before have I so related to the following John Muir quote:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
My last night was in stark contrast to my first - I didn’t even set up my tent. I just slept out with my pad and bag, calmer then I’ve been in months. Oh yes, and no noise maker. John Muir was right! Wilderness is a necessity.
The next morning, I awoke to a fresh start and an excitement to reach John and the crew. I cleaned camp, had my oatmeal, and started for the trail. I made my destination just as the Crew was heading out for a day’s work. After a warm welcome from John, I unloaded my big pack and set off to volunteer for the day. On our way to the project sights, John was showcasing all of the work that had been done on the trail so far. I was impressed.
Trails are complex in their engineering, more so than
the average hiker realizes. Rightfully so, because “the best trailwork
goes unnoticed.” Done right, trails exist in harmony with ecosystems.
Done incorrectly, they can alter them. Trails have drainage structures
to mitigate water erosion and other structures, such as rock walls, to
retain soil. 3,4 They also have what’s called “rip-rap”
which, like tile, creates a durable walking surface where soil retention
is otherwise impossible. 5,6 Trails require regular “brushing”
to keep them from being overgrown and regular clearing to remove trees
that have fallen across the trail. All of this work is done using old
school techniques, such as dry stone masonry, and hand tools like crosscut
saws, shovels, rock bars, and pick-mattocks. Yes, even the 1,000 lb rocks
that go into these structures are moved by hand over distances sometimes
as far as 2 football fields – even if the project requires 50 of
Backcountry Trail Crews work hard. The average corpsmember hikes 700 miles in a season. Through a close-knit community and strong camaraderie, they push their bodies and minds to the limit and serve. They serve those of us who enjoy hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, or any other form of recreation that requires trails. They also serve the resource, because bad trails lead to more trails as people go around obstacles like trees, roots, and rocks. Through proper maintenance our human footprint is concentrated on a single path, thus minimizing our impact.
As we go on our awesome adventures and hike the beautiful trails throughout the country, whether it is the JMT, the AT, or anything in between, let’s think about those people who came before us who made that experience possible. People, often at their best, using primitive tools and brute strength to carve out trails and maintain them for future generations to enjoy. If you’re in California, it was probably a CCC Backcountry Trail Crew.
NATIONAL PUBLIC LANDS DAY
On September 26, our family volunteered for a joint LVMC/Friends of Nevada Wilderness event on National Public Lands Day. We and a group of about 20 other volunteers spent the morning repairing a wilderness area near Mountain Springs. It was an excellent well-organized experience. Our task was to block off an area that had been used and eroded by vehicles, especially motorcycles. Our group put in a row of posts (very hard work) that served as a barrier, and covered the area with a method of horizontal and vertical mulching.
Basically, this means digging and "planting" dead branches (vertical mulching) and laying these branches flat across the ground (horizontal mulching). We were given an arsenal of digging and pounding tools as well as hard hats and gloves. It was hard work, but quite fun. It was amazing how fast the work went with a big energetic group as we finished in about an hour and a half! We then were treated to a delicious lunch as Minas and Grace gave us an educational talk about wilderness conservation as we ate.
It was an enjoyable day with a great group. We learned a lot and felt good about helping preserve our wilderness!
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Jeannette (Jen) Chapman, Barry & Austin
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016
in Central Asia
Wednesday, March 23, 2016