On the right trail

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps offers students challenges in the great outdoors

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— "Look at this office," Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Program Coordinator Avrom Feinberg announced above the talk of about 10 people. They were sitting in a circle, each wearing matching maroon shirts, under a tree off the Tombstone Trail at Steamboat Lake State Park picking at sack lunches.

Feinberg nodded down to Steamboat Lake, which lay just below the group. Above the water is Sand Mountain, which still has ample amounts of snow from the winter. The sky was blue and the sun warmed the ground the group sat on, which stimulated a fragrant pine smell that lingered through the forest.

"This cubicle has a window seat," Feinberg said with a laugh.

The talking ceased, and everyone looked south, out from the perch above the lake at the picturesque view.

Not long after, Feinberg's watch began beeping, which signaled the end of lunch. The group automatically climbed back to its feet and prepare for another stint of work on the trail.

"Only four more hours of work," Feinberg said.

Work for the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps entails clearing, widening and repairing trails on state and federally managed public lands. Each member of this group was in training last week at Steamboat Lake, along with nine other Colorado youth corps agencies. They are future crew leaders and will be in charge of a seven-member trail crew made up of teen-agers or college students. Next month, the crews will depart into the national and state forests for four weeks of trail work.

Feinberg was the simulated crew leader for the week. He showed the local Rocky Mountain Youth Corps trainees how to do trail maintenance and how to work with crew members. This year 42 teen-agers from Northwest Colorado and 40 college students have signed up for the youth corps.

But a repaired trail isn't the only result of the work. Feinberg said the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is a chance for the young trail workers to break out of their comfort zones in life, take on challenges and achieve goals.

In a sense, the crew leaders also are a guide to self-discovery, Feinberg said.

"It's pretty easy to walk away from youth corps with some personal growth," he said.

What Feinberg aims at is a better understanding of the self.

"The medium in which they learn this is trail work. Along with that comes a good work ethic," he said.

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Executive Director Gretchen Vandecarr said locals know the importance of spending time in the backcountry for one's personal growth and exuberance.

"Imagine what they are like when they come back after being in the backcountry for four weeks," she said.

In the setting of work and isolation, each crew member bonds with one another and discovers qualities in themselves otherwise untapped in their normal day-to-day routines, Vandecarr said.

The crews also are paid for their work. Teen-agers make $240 a week and college students rake in $300. Food and lodging (a tent) is provided.

"It's not a huge amount of money, but look what you get out of it," Vandecarr said. "People say they can make more money working at Taco Bell or something, but they are going to learn so much more here."

This is not a new concept, explained Ann Baker, executive director of the Colorado Youth Corps Agency.

"There is a whole movement to create youth development through work," she said.

However, putting it in a wilderness setting, which is so far removed from comfort zones of a young person's life, is novel. Also, in Baker's opinion, it is the most effective.

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