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Just two years after being heavily damaged by fire and floods in the aftermath to the Las Conchas fire, Los Alamos County’s trail system is nearly restored, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Family YMCA’s Youth Conservation Corps (YCC).
This summer’s theme was building sustainable trails in impossible places.
Los Alamos County Open Space Specialist Craig Martin and Española Ranger District Recreation Team Leader Lynn Bjorklund wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened after the Cerro Grande fire, when trails were rebuilt in the same locations and destroyed again after the Las Conchas fire.
That put the YCC crews to the test, and they rose to the challenge.
“They’ve found amazing, creative ways to build trails in impossible areas,” Bjorklund said. “It’s really fun to walk those trails and see the work they’ve done.”
This was the fifth year a YCC crew has worked on Los Alamos trails. The crew has developed a reputation as one of the best in the state. That was reflected in the largest federal Youth Conservation Corps grant to date, enough money for the YMCA to hire 40 youth this year, nearly double last year’s crew. The grant was for $149,000 and 70 percent of that went to wages. They constructed four miles of new trail and reconstructed one mile.
“They’ve created loop trips that we had five or 10 years ago, or 13 years ago, and people really miss them,” Martin said.
Martin and Bjorklund are pleased to see the crew improve every year.
“As far as the ability of this crew as it’s evolved over five years, I look at a place and imagine a trail, and outline it with pin flags and when I come back, it’s there, even better than when I imagined it,” Martin said.
Four of the crew members – Eduardo Perez from Española, Naomi DeLay, who bounces between Los Alamos and Española, and Bryce Tempeleton and Ty Brooks, both from Los Alamos, talked about their crew experiences.
Perez has been on the crew four summers, Tempeleton has had three years here and one in Yosemite National Park, and it was DeLay’s second year, with a previous year in Bandelier National Monument. Brooks joined this summer marking his first year.
Perez is a senior in high school, Tempeleton just graduated high school and DeLay and Brooks are sophomores and juniors in college, respectively.
In addition to getting paid, the young participants earn scholarship money.
“I don’t think you could find a better summer job,” Perez said. “We’re basically getting paid to do what we love.”
The group was enthusiastic about their work, and obviously reveled in the challenges they had met, such as creating a new trail to replace the one destroyed by flooding in Water Canyon.
“The post-flood landscape sometimes takes away every easy place that you would normally put a trail,” Martin said. “So at one point I said, I need a wall here, and it’s going to be a big one. It’s going to be 25 feet long. And Ty Horak, the senior crew leader said, ‘No, I think it needs to be 150 feet long.’ And they built it.”
“It seems like that’s impossible, but we just seem to finish it all the time,” DeLay said.
“It’s a fair amount of work, but we get enough breaks,” Perez said. “And a big part of being on such a big team is we’re all good encouragers, and we all encourage each other to get through the day.”
The group credited much of their success to their crew leaders. DeLay and Brooks were both crew-leaders-in-training this year.
“That’s always very impressive to me, to watch a young adult mature over the course of a summer because you trust them and they see that you trust them and you know that they can get the job done,” Martin said. “The adults who are watching over provide them with the opportunity to succeed.”
The group called Martin their “biggest mentor.” It is also a running joke that he is a shapeshifter.
“He’s also one of our best motivators, because we never know where he’s going to be,” Templeton said. “He just walks right out of the trees.”
“This deer came walking down the trail while we’re all on break, and someone was like, ‘We’d better get back to work. Craig’s coming,’” Brooks said.
The group loves being outside and having a sense of accomplishment.
“You just learn something new every day,” Perez said.
The crews get classes on wildlife; resume writing and tours of fire stations. Brooks and DeLay taught fire prevention to the YMCA’s iCARE (daycare) groups. Team members also served as mentors when they worked with the Youth Service Corps (YES Corps) on a connecting trail between two legs of the Deer Trap Trail.
The new trails were put to the test during heavy rains this summer. The Water Canyon Trail stood up to a downpour of nine-tenths of an inch of rain in five minutes and only needed one evening of work by volunteers to clear debris that had washed down the hillside. Seeing that is part of the reward for these young people.
“Seeing and walking the trails: that’s my favorite part, just going back and seeing what we built and going, that looks awesome,” Tempeleton said.
“My favorite part is the sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a trail and it gets to be opened up for the community to use,” Brooks said. “And also just spending time with the people I get to work with is a great thing.”
“You’re always building your experiences each summer with other like-minded teens,” Perez said.
It is that connection and bond between the young people that means the most to Martin.
“They came together a team like no other YCC crew I have ever seen. It was twice as large, and a mix of kids from Los Alamos and from other places, and that usually stays segregated,” Martin said.
“But this year every combination of kids worked together, ate lunch together and mission accomplished in terms of getting kids from different communities to appreciate each other.”
Trails completed by the YCC in 2013:
• Water Canyon Trail – 1.0 mile new construction from “the Meadow” to the connection with American Springs Road.
• Canyon de Valle – 1.0 mile of Trail repair and improvement from where YCC 2012 left off to the Forest Boundary.
• Pajarito Canyon Trail – 0.75 mile from the main Pajarito Trail to the half way point to Pajarito Ski Hill. To be completed in 2014.
• Los Alamos Canyon Trail – 1.0 mile of mostly new trail construction from the Reservoir to within 0.4 mile of the Knapp Trail.
• Deer Trap Mesa – 1.25 mile of new connector trail on LA County Land.