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Youth corps to work on trails this summer

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By Tris DeRoma

Members of the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps made an impression Jun. 5, walking single file from the Mari-Mac parking lot on Central Avenue, all the way to Ashley Pond Park.

Their destination was a tool trailer in the parking lot of the Los Alamos Justice Center, where they would learn about the tools inside and sharpen them.

The Youth Conservation Corps will be busy this summer.

“We’re going to be working on a lot of trails this summer. A lot of them will be near Guaje Canyon,” Crew Leader Peter Watson said.

The crew also plans to finish the connection between Los Alamos Canyon and Quemazon Trail, do some work on Canyon Rim Trail and other trails throughout the county.

Though the entire county is under strict restrictions they do have permission from Santa Fe National Forest officials to work on trails in the forest, permission from the county is on a day-to-day basis.

Crew Trainer Jess Morgan said the restriction doesn’t necessarily mean they will have less work to do.

“We have fewer trails to work on this year and that is partly because of grants,” Morgan said. “We will be paying more attention to the trails we’re on. So I guess we’ll be busier in that regard.”

The corps plans to access Guaje Canyon through National Forest Land when the time comes to start work on those trails.

Throughout the summer, corps members learn not only about renovating and constructing trails, but life skills such as teamwork, job training, sexual harassment preparedness, conflict resolution and other skills. Corps members also learn Cardio Pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and are trained in first aid.

In some cases, corps members can also receive credit in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses, and courses in construction and engineering.

“We want the YCC to be an educational experience rather than just a grunt work job, so we have previously gone to the PEEC Center (Pajarito Environmental Education Center in Los Alamos) to learn about local flora and fauna,” Crew Trainer Jess Morgan said.

Wildland firefighters also have talks with the corps about what firefighters do and what various jobs are like within the department.

The group also gets history lessons on fire in the region and the Santa Fe National Forest.

Fire officials appreciate the work the YCC does on area trail systems. Keeping the trails clear of debris and well maintained helps firefighters to navigate trails during a wildfire and quickly create fire breaks, Morgan and Watson said.

Last year, the entire crew was able to take a course in forestry management.

According to Watson and Morgan, the  experience can lead to jobs in wildland fire fighting.

Morgan heard about the YCC when she was a freshman in college.

“That first summer was amazing. I enjoyed the outdoors, but I never had the opportunity to actually have an impact like that,” Morgan said.

Morgan has been with the group for about five or six years.

Watson was encouraged by local trail maintenance expert Craig Martin to apply for a spot on the corps about four years ago.

“I really like the idea that I can help out my community by doing something I enjoy,” Watson said. “To me, it’s the perfect summer job. You get to go outside, work hard all day outdoors. It also pays pretty good and you get to help out the community.

Watson wants to go to college and study engineering.

“This job definitely creates an amazing work ethic. Employers and college definitely recognize that, so really, it’s a great opportunity for anyone.”

The New Mexico Conservation Corps and the Los Alamos Family YMCA sponsor the Youth Conservation Corps.

The corps is open for youths 15-25. Corps members get paid between $10 and $12 an hour.

Those interested can apply starting in January. Registration is through March. The Corps will be working on trails until Aug. 4.