Today’s guest post is from Renzo Quevado! Renzo manages the site Coffee, Mountains, Travel where he writes about his experience with AmeriCorps and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC). Renzo is a Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps alumnus who found his passion on the trails of America’s forests and mountains. Growing up in the mountains of Northern California and Mexico, he caught the exploring bug (and yes, it is contagious!). Once it was time to start exploring careers, he found that AmeriCorps was a great first step. After a year in NCCC, he continued on to the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, where he spent months working on the Appalachian Trail. In his conservation work, Renzo has learned the value of preserving our natural resources and maintaining safe access for people to enjoy them!
A Season with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps
When your morning routine is waking before dawn, unzipping your tent, walking to the campfire to make coffee that you drink while watching the sunrise over the mountains, it’s a good way to start the day. That’s how our days started working with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Our first session was getting to work on the Appalachian Trail (AT), which is something I had always dreamed of doing, so I was pretty stoked. We were working out in the backcountry, so that meant we had to hike in all of our supplies. We had to carry all our personal stuff, the tents, our kitchen gear, the propane (it seemed like HQ gave us the heaviest propane tanks they could find), all our tools and all the other miscellaneous camp things. It was only about a mile and a half to our campsite which would normally only take about 45 minutes, but with the terrain being mostly steep uphill, it took much longer carrying all our gear. It was worth it though.
Our first campsite, Kamp Kush, was a pretty sweet setup. We had a nice stream running under it where we would collect all our water and filter it. There were also some nice bathing spots. The only downside, which I’m not sure is even a downside, was that there were too many trees and we couldn’t see the sky! It was some of the most beautiful trail I’ve ever been on. Everything was so green, and when you could catch a glimpse of the mountains, they were breathtaking. Some of my favorite moments were falling asleep to the sound of owls right above my tent, or waking up at five in the morning to make breakfast as the mist filled the forest around our kitchen, or hiking to the work site and seeing the contrast between the white, skinny birch trees and the reddish-brown, scaly-barked red pine.
Rock Shopping and Canal Digging
Each session was a month long, and after each one we had a week-long break. For our second session we worked just a few miles down the trail on the AT. The new campsite might have been our overall favorite. This campsite wasn’t backcountry exactly. It was right on the dirt road that led up to the trailhead, so grocery shopping and camp setup were super easy. The campsite itself was really nice: very open, plenty of room for everyone to spread out, spot for my hammock, and a little waterfall with a pool underneath where we could bathe and have fun. The project itself was one of my favorites, just a ton of rock work, which I love. We put in about 146 rock steps, which might not sound like a lot, but most of them were 200-400 pounds! I remember I was working on this one staircase with one of my crew leaders, April, and a crew member Erika. April and Erika went off rock shopping, which is basically just running around the woods poking at what you think might be rocks with a 18-pound steel bar and then rolling the rock to the staircase. In this case that rock was a 400 pound beast. I was at the staircase trying to clear all the mud away, which was horrible. This staircase was right on top of a rock ledge, which is pretty much just a huge boulder, or part of the mountain itself. When that happens, the material on top of it, the dirt and other ground stuff, doesn’t settle and compact much, so when water starts to get in it, the ground gets super saturated and just turns to inches of mud and muck that can’t be dried. Now putting a staircase on top of a ledge is close to impossible even with just the ledge to deal with, but we also had to work with water coming out of the ground. There was a small spring that emptied right under our first stair. So I had carve out a small canal in the ledge with a hammer to stop the water from pooling under our stair. Eventually we made the staircase work, and it only took four days!
Lessons to Live by
During the third session we got to build a mountain bike trail from scratch, which was awesome! I don’t have much to say about session three other than that, but it was great, trust me. Session four, though, was interesting. We had three different projects, a new one almost each week. We moved camps a lot, which was annoying but fun at the same time.
I think one of the most important attributes you can bring with you to a conservation corps is adaptability, and the ability to go with the flow. Things change a lot, projects change at the last minute, you’re not told about where you’re going until the day before, and living with a diverse group of people requires you to sometimes do things that may not be your first choice but that will benefit the team. Someone on my team put it really well: when you’re living with eight different people, you’re going to have to realize that each action is going to have eight different reactions, and you’re all going to have to work together to overcome any obstacle or drama you encounter to stay as a strong, cohesive unit. One of the most important lessons I think I’ve taken from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps is how to work well in a close knit community while contributing to the team.
For more about Renzo’s experience with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, check out Coffee, Mountains, Travel, and to find similar service opportunities, check out current conservation jobs in the Northeast!