ESTES PARK – In 2015, the Rocky Mountain Conservancy Conservation Corps continued to help conserve and preserve Northern Colorado’s cultural and natural resources both in Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding National Forest by sending thirty-six youth divided into six crews into the field to work alongside the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service in specific districts throughout the area.
Within Rocky Mountain National Park, the Estes Crew maintained 112 miles of trail to ensure safe and sustainable public access. As the season progressed, they began working on flood recovery projects. This included restoring the tread on the Cow Creek Trail which was significantly eroded during the September 2013 floods and resurfacing one of the accessible trails around Lily Lake to allow access to the area for all visitors. In addition, the crew planted more than 4500 native plants in a disturbed area and spent several days working to remove non-native plant species from RMNP.
Alongside the historical preservationists in the Park, the Kawuneeche Crew helped restore two historic buildings in Rocky. First was the Civilian Conservation Corps mess hall at Lake Irene. This structure was built in 1926 to house and feed crews working on Trail Ridge Road. The Kawuneeche Crew replaced the roof with new cedar shingles, restored old rafter tails and log ends, and repainted the entire exterior of the building. Their second project was the Little Buckaroo Barn in the Kawuneeche Valley. This lesser known structure is preserved due to its unique design combining the Louisiana-style Cajun barns to fit the needs and conditions of Colorado. To ensure its continued preservation, the crew replaced and reinforced the roof, stabilized the barn, and replaced damaged siding.
Outside of the National Park, the Conservancy provided four crews to the USDA Forest Service. The Red Feather and Rawah Wilderness Crews work with the Canyon Lakes Ranger District just north of RMNP. The Red Feather Crew worked in the Big Thompson Canyon and throughout the Red Feather Lakes region rebuilding trails damaged by the flood. This included building entirely new, more resilient sections of trail in areas where the flood water had washed the old away. Their work helped allow the Forest Service reopen the North Fork trail in late August of this summer. The Rawah Wilderness Crew focused specifically on the Rawah Wilderness Area. With the help of the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, they were able to maintain the entire region.
The Conservation Corps also works with the Boulder Ranger District managing the area just south of RMNP. The Boulder Crew helped the USFS restore trail systems damaged by the flood. Most notably this included resetting several culverts, building boardwalks and turnpikes to reduce visitor impact on newly created wetland areas, and completely replacing a wilderness bridge along the Buchannan Pass Trail.
The final area served by the Conservation Corps is in Grand County. The Shadow Mountain Crew works with the wilderness trails crew of the Sulphur Ranger District. This year most of their work helped to restore access and maintain sustainable trails, and educate hikers along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail by removing over 700 downed trees from Knight Ridge, rehabbing a significantly eroded and braided section of the trail near the Devils Thumb and completing backcountry patrols.
All in all, the Conservation Corps contributed more than 12,000 hours to the conservation of these public lands. In addition to all of this work in the field, the Conservation Corps interns also attended trainings and educational programming to help develop their personal and professional skills in the area of natural resources. This program was establish in 2003 by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy to engage youth in the conservation of Colorado’s public lands through on-the-ground experience and education in land stewardship. If you are interested in learning more about the Rocky Mountain Conservancy or the Conservation Corps, please visit www.rmconservancy.org.