Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) provides young women and men with structured, safe and challenging service and educational opportunities through projects that promote personal growth, the development of social skills, and an ethic of natural resource stewardship. The Southwest Conservation Corps program model incorporates guiding principles of experiential learning, respect, openness and willingness, commitment, responsibility, pride, excellence, health, safety, and fun. SCC is a program of Conservation Legacy (formerly Southwest Conservation Corps) that was founded in 1998 to continue the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. Conservation Legacy also supports other nationwide conservation programs including: Arizona Conservation Corps, Environmental Stewards and Southeast Youth Corps.(these will be linked)
Southwest Conservation Corps offers programs year-round based in regional offices located in Durango, CO, Salida, CO and the Acoma Pueblo in NM. SCC operates a continuum of programs from community-based initiatives for teens to backcountry camping crews for high school and college aged individuals along with leadership programs for college graduates and job training programs specifically for current era veterans. Programs are completed in partnership with public land agency managers and most are AmeriCorps programs.
SCC service projects take place throughout Southwest Colorado and Northern New Mexico. On a typical project, Corps members work, learn and camp in teams with up to six crewmembers and 2 crew leaders. Projects include trail building, fuels reduction, riparian restoration, erosion control, tree planting, fencing, and exotic plant removal.
Corps members earn a living allowance while learning valuable work and life skills. Through the program structure, SCC places a strong focus on leadership development and environmental stewardship. SCC’s strengths lie not only in its ability to assist public agencies meet their conservation project goals, but also in its ability to provide a viable work force to the region while offering exceptional educational and engaging opportunities to participants.
It's all about the Tutu with this crew. It may seem antithetical, but the 7 hardest working, dirtiest people on the Dolores River set their expectations on a sparkling pink Tutu. It's on Andrew George at 5:30 in the morning preparing breakfast by moonlight and headlamp. It;'s the first thing Sarah puts on after a long day's work cutting tamarisk along the riverbank. We wrote our expectations for work and life together on this, the most flambouyant of crew contracts. It says: "Work Hard" "Be present and own every moment" "Super Happy Fun Time" " Respect" "Chainsaw Master" and "Own your farts and be proud of them"
This tutu has seen us through 7 days of felling tamarisk and treating low stumps with herbicide. With it we have learned how to read the jigsaw puzzle that is the intertwined branches. We learned to go slow to go fast and respect the binds that all these overlaid branches weigh on each other, meticulously cutting them in order to drop safely to the ground. We have learned to weight down tents with big rocks and always keep extra paracord handy in case of a windstorm. We have learned that blue herbicide dye is no joke and triple rinsing is easier done by the light of day.
Most of all I have learned that this crew is amazing! They are ready to work hard, long days. They have a seemingly endless supply of positivity and creativity. I have learned that I have a lot to learn about this work, and that these are exactly the people I want to to it with.
Jo Sorrentino, Crew Leader Extraordinaire
We are finally done, after 14 weeks. The fall leaves waved goodbye. We compelted many waterbards and saw some fantastic views. We sawed tress, they were yellow. We made frineds with hunters. The OHV trail users appreciated our work, gor we made the trail nice but still a fun challenge. Good-Bye West Falll Creek Trail! It has been 7 long hitches. Stay strong- we made you that way!
(You only do the Southwest Conservation Corps once, but you can really do it more than one time…)
As the summer trail season comes to an end, I cannot think of a better way I would have rather spent my summer. Nothing beats doing hard, meaningful work, with a crew of amazing people from all over the country. It is great to be a part of a program that gets people out of their comfort zones, pushes them to work hard, and allows them to develop a respect and sense of place among our wild and natural lands.
Whenever the weather was miserable, our clothes were soaking wet, our packs were heavier than forklifts, the stoves and filters were not working, and things were just not ideal I was subtly grateful for these challenges. I was grateful for these challenges because I knew they would make my crew and myself better and stronger people. I figure if you can work all day in the cold rain, be completely covered in mud, and still make jokes and smile that future hardships will be much easier to embrace, or the next time you turn on your water faucet and liquid magically appears you will be so much more thankful for it. I know that the conservation corps/wilderness experience has made me a better, more humble, and more grateful individual, and I hope more people choose to experience this.
The summer was not just full of thunderstorms and malfunctioning water filters though. We had a little fun, and did some quality work. When we were not crosscutting trees like our boy Paul Bunyan, carrying rocks the size of North Dakota, laying tread under the Rio Grande Pyramid, or crushing rocks harder than Dr. Dre dropping beats, we were making Bobby Flay-like backcountry enchiladas, playing oscar award worthy charades, turning the wilderness into our high eleveation dance floor, putting up the most baller bear hangs on this side of the planet, using the word coward on a hourly basis, questioning why ultra light backapackers do not GO HEAVY, mowing endless amounts of oreos, and just simply having a killer fun time! I want to thank my crew—Caitlin, Joey, Kate, Walker, Lily, Red, and Tess—for all your hard work and a super NEAT summer!
Zach- Crew 408 SCC Four Corners
It’s the second to last night of the second to last hitch and lightning just struck two seconds away. It will continue to rain well into the night. Comforted by hot drinks the crew huddles under a tarp and looks back on the past weeks. We have been waking before dawn and working long days to finish a very technical project on a high traffic trail. Today we ended a long day “early” because of the storm (twelve hours).
Since the great something out there knows that we love curveballs, both of our Mikes are injured. Scalzo has developed a creaky ankle and Fischer managed to break his radial head just before hitch. Luckily two of our half Mikes are still well above one average Mike.
Josh is piping up, “hey maybe we should speak to the challenges and rewards of the punishing, sometimes incredibly slow, but meaningful work we have been wrapped up in.” By maintaining 9 drains and building two, piecing together one junk wall, one cobble pathway, four check steps, and laying out the bulk of a massive rock wall and switchback platform we hope to add decades to the life of a steep trail that desperately needs it.
Throughout the week we saw a Western Tanager, and a lovely little yellow bird with a red head. The birds and butterflies are just the icing on our camping cake. The Ponderosas smell like cinnabuns, in fact on the hike in we perfected pondo-smelling with a sweet new move called a sniff-em-‘n’-roll.
We have enjoyed the gratitude (and a little sass) passing recreationists have offered on their way up and down the trail.Most people are happy to see us working and stop to say thanks or ask about the project. Common trail comments include: “Thanks for the work, you guys are great!”, “Are you installing an escalator?”, “Can you level this out a little?”, “Normally I bike up this, but I’ll walk it for you guys” (dripping with sweat and staring hopelessly up the hill at the switchback). And most common of all the questions, “how much further to the Hermosa Creek campground?” huffed between strained breaths.
“Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.”
? Vladimir Nabokov
Our first backcountry hitch. Our first monsoon season hitch. Our first fully technical hitch. Crack, flash, and we all look up. Jo and Mike silently counting the seconds. Eleven, that's really close, everybody down. Grip hoist cable is laid out of the way. Tools placed on the side of the trail. Everyone saddles up to our tree for the next 2 hours of hail and rain and booming thunderclaps. It's a far cry from the heat of desert bike trails. Somehow we seem transported to the tropics.
Every night is spent around the fire, clothes hung and draped, no ember or smoke left with out a cloth to dry. But Browntown is endlessly positive. Patiently, each member pushed through frustrating weather and difficult puzzle problems in the work. The grip hoist crew got our system down. Each person developing expertise in their part of the system. The checkstep crew grew by leaps and bounds. Many folks on the team were doing dry masonry for the first time, and now we are problem solvers and challenge seekers.
Everyone is excited to go back for one more hitch to finish the work. heads up, shoulders strong, and rain gear at the ready!
“Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall”
? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Complete Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
While the air in Telluride is lacking in Oxygen, it is saturated with a strange crispness that Is absolutely representative of the Colorado spirit; a timeless feeling that the mountains will shrug off every single human imposition upon the immensity of their majesty.
"This is it," I thought as my crew and I came face to face with Mt. Wilson for the first time, "this is why people quietly smile to themselves when they walk through the city streets and their minds turn to the Rockies."
"This is it," I thought to myself as I sank my shovel into the rocks scattered through the Telluride valley floor and watched Bridal Veil lovingly trace pearly fingers down the weathered cheeks of the vertical slab of stone that undeniably ends the city limits "this is the place people should come to seek the meaning of their place in life."
"This is it!" I burst out when the gondola came over the mountain at sunset and the lizard head mountain range proudly, silently, declared itself a contender for the most stunning visage that nature could present for a thousand miles, and the crags of every valley filled with a golden mist that practically begged for musical accompaniment by a chorus of angels, "this is the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life."
Telluride was in many ways an ideal hitch. The work was breathtakingly difficult; carrying more than a ton of lumber and roofing down uncut trail is an activity that makes crawling into your sleeping bag at night feel like slipping into a scented bubble bath at a five-star hotel. However, the outcome was both immense and immediate; not only did we manage to reunite a baby elk with its herd while watching the drainage we dug for the more efficient use of water fill with its gurgling cargo, but our efforts were toasted by the cheese-dripping marvel of human accomplishment that is Brown Dog's 313 pizza.
I feel that we left Telluride knowing that all the moments we spent carrying twenty pound razor-sharp sheets of metal roofing were moments of privilege. We left knowing that our work made Telluride's forests one dilapidated mountain cabin more pristine, more than three hundred meters of drainage more water-efficient, and a single newborn elk more teeming with life. We left with the feeling that our work in this place took us all a step closer to finding out what it really is that we're doing here. As we drove away and Telluride dwindled in size behind us, the wisps of a feeling that maybe "this was it" whispered at our backs. Maybe it's nearly losing your feet to the vertigo of how diminutive each one of us truly is; maybe it's knowing that somehow your work maintained the possibility for others to feel that same way. To become a part of the grandeur of the mountains and feel your existence stretch beyond the limits of your own life, maybe that is what we mean by a legacy of conservation. Maybe it's a very large part of what it means to be human.
For crew 408's second hitch we were stationed on a trail about 5 miles in at Lower Hermosa Park in Durango, CO. The hike to our worksite was a gorgeous and grueling one, physically and mentally, not unlike the rest of the hitch. During these nine days we set and reset over 30 large rocks in the ground. Making stone check steps is a frustrating and usually long process of digging, re-digging, placing, and replacing heavy boulders, but it is necessary and longer-lasting than lumber check steps. We've learned a lot in our first half of the summer working with scc and not only how to build and maintain supportive structures using naturally materials. We're beginning to understand what it means to do something for the benefit of others. Were developing good work ethic and the skills it takes to work well with teammates while enjoying each others' company and the profusion of beauty around us. The days were long, the nights too short, and in the morning there was a freezing cold creek to cross in flip flops; hoping to the stars and moons you don't fall in. The last supper of the week consisted of chicken flavored ramen with veggies and brownies; might sound like a strange combo, but it hit the spot. Getting to know my crew, who I am never far from while on hitch, is as much a learning experience as anything in the backcountry, and an unforgettable one. Though to some it may be hard to understand, simple pleasures such as sitting by a warm fire cracking jokes, reading a good book on the bank of a creek, or some pan-seared scramble cakes at the end of the day are what makes this life so wonderful. Though the work is tough and your sleeping bag is way too comfy in he morning, I wouldn't trade this summer for anything.
This week we had the unique opportunity to help pilot a new interaction between Montezuma Land Conservancy, their clients, Jackie and Aryol the land owners, and the Southwest Conservation Corps. SCC collaborated with the Conservancy to provide restoration and conservation work to a generations old family ranch outside of Dolores, Colorado. By selective spraying of noxious weeds, fence upkeep, and clearing of Aspens affected by Sudden Aspen Decline we were able to play a role in keeping the Brumley’s land undeveloped and pristine in perpetuity.
It was a successful pilot project in every sense of the phrase. As our first hitch it was great to work on three different projects and cover a huge amount of acreage. On Monday we gathered all the informative specs for the three different jobs. For the rest of the week we were zipping around on ATV’s, felling lots of dead aspen, and hammering thousands of fence posts and stays to upkeep the land boundaries.
Highlights of the project were all interactions with Aryol and Jackie. They came and shared a lovely fire cooked dutchoven enchilada meal with us at our campsite. We were enthralled with all their stories about the history of the ranch and the natural and cultural history of the whole area. That was just a warm up though. On our last night Jackie made us an unbelievably good meal of slow cooked ribs, family secret cole slaw, and potato salad. It was so good that Mike quit vegetarianism (seriously!)
The land and the work were all so wonderful. It’s great to know that Ranching families like the Brumleys are dedicated to preserving these kinds of estates. At the end of the week we were tired from a good week of work, but mostly we felt like we were leaving our adoptive grandparents house.
Upon completion of our first hitch together as a group I think we began to understand what corps work was all about. We saw beyond the single dimension of hard work and sweat and into the multi lateral dimensions of teamwork, group support and positive community interactions. We all had such amazing interaction with the project partners and the volunteers that came out to help with the trail, it was really special to see how much these people care about the work that we do and about us as individuals. I know that all of the crew members, including myself, had great conversations with many of the volunteers at the BBQ and many of them gave us very good advice looking towards our futures as stewards of wild places. I sure hope I'm still that active once I start to get older. All in all this first hitch was a wonderful experience and I know that we are all looking forward to working the rest of the season with the SOuthwest Conservation Corps. Our crew has bonded significantly throughout this entire first hitch and like a sunrise we learned, if we all rise together we can accomplish anything.
“You may be wondering by now are these guys Navy Seals? Olympic athletes? Astronauts in training? No. We are a trail crew and we’re here to dig.”