YCC hits the trails this summer

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By Jennifer Garcia

Trails in Los Alamos are getting a bit of a facelift thanks to the Youth Conservation Corps.

Youth from Española, Los Alamos and Pojoaque hit the trails Monday to begin their arduous task of fixing problems on and maintaining current trails.

It’s been a while since Los Alamos had a Youth Corps group. The last one existed in 2001, after the Cerro Grande fire.

That group consisted of four crews, of which half hailed from Los Alamos and half were from Española. Two crews focused on the play lots around town, while the other two crews worked on rehabilitating and rebuilding trails.

During that time, Sierra Argo served as a crew leader for one of the trail crew teams. Today, Argo serves as the Youth Director at the Family YMCA.

“That summer job is what has me doing the work I do today. It’s why I got the master’s I did and it’s what brought me to the YMCA in the first place for the YES Corps (Y Earth Service) program,” Argo said.

Argo said during the summer of 2001, the groups built bridges, learned to survey sites, made public service announcements relating to home fire safety and forest health and learned job skills such as community building through service, cooperation and leadership.

The YCC was implemented in Los Alamos again this year thanks to a grant that was awarded to the YMCA by the state.

Argo said that plans are in the works to make the YCC a year-round project and she is in the process of applying for a grant to make that possible.

On Monday, a quick downpour soaked much of the Mitchell trail but that did not deter the workers. It was easy to spot them working in their bright blue hard hats, moving rocks in an effort to build a water bar to keep the trail from eroding.

Some of the groups’ members are trail maintenance veterans like Nate Clements, 15 and Eamonn Wilson, 16, both of Los Alamos.

Both have been in the YES Corps for three years. In fact, Clements recently traveled to New York where he received a naturalist award.

The YES Corps is a combination of volunteer service, environmental education and work experience, that focuses on trail improvement, landscaping and watershed restoration.

Others, however, are new to the program and have never worked on trails before. Lahni Zollinger, 22, of Los Alamos is working with the YCC for the first time this year, where she’s serving as a crew leader. “I love being outdoors. I am a lot more skilled with my hands,” she said. “I’m already learning new skills.”

Josh Phillips, 15 and Cody Garinger, 18, both of Española are novices to the trail maintenance process, as well. They both said they applied for the jobs because they wanted to work outside and learn how to make trails.

The YCC is made up of 17 male crew workers, three female crew workers and one male and one female crew leader.

“Half the crew is coming in from Española,” Argo said. “We had so many applicants that we had to cut it (the process) off. We scored them on a one to five scale. We had 16 crew member positions but we split up the jobs so that there are some part-timers and a bigger crew.”

Argo said that part-timers work approximately 18 hours per week while full-time positions require a 36-hour workweek.

In addition to learning job skills that they can use in the future, the group gets paid $9 per hour if they are crew members, while crew leaders get paid $11 per hour.

Argo said that the ages of the workers range from 14 to 22 years old. Though the YCC has enough workers for this year, Argo wants those who are interested to keep the program in mind for next year.

Youth ages 14-25 are eligible for the program. For more information on the YCC or YES Corps, visit www.laymca.org.