Rocky Mountain Youth Corps members Brad Huntington, from left, Kelsey Aasness and Lauren Duncan team up to remove a log from a backcountry trail through a forest of beetle-infested lodgepole pine trees.

Courtesy photo

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps members Brad Huntington, from left, Kelsey Aasness and Lauren Duncan team up to remove a log from a backcountry trail through a forest of beetle-infested lodgepole pine trees.

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps reaches out to military veterans in Northwest Colorado

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Rocky Mountain Youth Corps 20th anniversary events

Emerald Mountain SRMA Trail System Dedication

4 p.m. Aug. 16 at Cow Creek Trailhead

Join BLM’s Little Snake Field Office Manager Wendy Reynolds and Assistant Manager Tim Wilson as they present a dedication plaque of the trails on Emerald Mountain to honor the Youth Corps’ 20th anniversary. There will be a special guest appearance by John Husband, Little Snake Field Office manager from the Youth Corps' first project in 1993.

20th anniversary celebration: Barbecue, Band and Bonfire

5 to 7 p.m. Aug 16 at Youth Corps headquarters

Join Youth Corps staff, board members, friends, alumni, supporters and special guests at Youth Corps headquarters, 1705 13th St., for a 20th anniversary celebration. Enjoy a barbecue catered by Rick’s Barbecue, live music, s’mores around the campfire, and old videos and stories of the early days of the Youth Corps. Special recognition will be made to founding board members, inaugural corps members and project sponsors.

Honey Stinger Race Aid Station

7 a.m. to noon Aug. 17 at Emerald Mountain

Join staff, board members, friend and alumni at the aid station on Emerald Mountain for the Steamboat Stinger mountain bike race.

— A couple of crews of chain saw-wielding military veterans are making the transition to civilian life this summer while removing hazard trees from forests and fighting wildfires with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.

Throughout the first two decades of its existence, the Youth Corps, based in Steamboat Springs, has specialized in helping young adults ages 16 to 25 acquire self-reliance, a strong work ethic and leadership skills while building backcountry trails. But this summer, the Youth Corps has added a new dimension, helping military veterans as old as 35 adjust to life beyond the armed services while fighting wildfires.

Youth Corps Executive Director Gretchen Van De Carr admitted she and her board members thought carefully before taking the step, but then it struck them.

“We just felt like we have the obligation to do this,” Van De Carr said. “We have the infrastructure, we already have chain saw crews, and we felt obligated to make a go of this.”

Van De Carr said the program allows the veterans to gain new skills among peers with shared experiences.

“We have two veterans crews this summer, both out on a fire right now for the BLM” in Moffat County, she said. “They get their wildfire red card and hands-on experience all summer, and when they’re done, they’re poised for a new civilian career and ready for re-entry into civilian society.”

The Youth Corps is celebrating its 20th anniversary Aug. 16 and 17 and its foundation still is its Conservation Corps, which employs 100 to 150 young adults ages 18 to 25 each summer to work across Northwest Colorado and sometimes into Wyoming on habitat restoration projects, fire fuels reduction missions, noxious weed eradication, fence building, repairing irrigation ditches and building primitive roads as well as hiking trails.

Steamboat Springs artist Chula Beauregard, who took part in the Conservation Corps in 1993 and 1994 and returned as a leader while in college in 1995, said the experience changed her outlook on life in the outdoors. As a child who only reluctantly participated in hiking and camping outings with her parents, Beauregard later blossomed under the influence of peers in the Youth Corps.

“I was always dragging my feet with my parents. I never realized I had it in me,” Beauregard said. In the Youth Corps, “I realized first, I’m really strong because we were carrying tools all day long, building trail and camping out. It gave me so much confidence, being part of a team and pulling through for the team because I’m strong. It was kind of a daily challenge and a daily affirmation that I could do it.”

The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is one of 10 accredited but independent youth corps in the state that benefits from the advocacy of the Colorado Youth Corps Association.

The jobs they accomplish are done on behalf of land-management agencies, and the nonprofit Youth Corps has a unique business model.

An assigned project manager with extensive experience assesses the job first to determine whether it's appropriate for the crews, Van De Carr said, and then to determine how many crew weeks it will take to complete the job.

“What we say (to the sponsoring agency) is we will provide you with a minimum of 320 person-hours per week for a certain crew week rate ranging from $6,000 to $10,000,” Van De Carr said. “We almost always exceed project sponsor expectations and end up asking for more work.”

The work is always hard, and the young corps members earn a weekly stipend that is about the equivalent of minimum wage, $7.78 this year in Colorado. But they also receive room and board, and by the end of the summer, they can have saved almost $3,000. A majority of corps members also receive an AmeriCorps education award of about $1,500 to be used in virtually any form of continuing education or vocational training, Van De Carr said. The funds go directly from Americorps to the educational entity.

The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps was established in 1993 by the city of Steamboat Springs in response to a community need for more youth employment and educational opportunities. The Youth Corps obtained independence and nonprofit status in 1999 so that it could serve a larger geographic area. A program for younger teens ages 14 to 16, the Community Youth Corps, remains with the city, but the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps collaborates on it. There are about 50 youngsters in five crews this summer.

A newer program, the Service Learning Corps, has engaged about 55 volunteer middle school students this summer in two-week sessions in which adult leaders guide crews to complete community service projects across Routt County.

Van De Carr said she knows she will become emotional this month when crews gather at the Youth Corps headquarters on 13th Street for a tradition they call the Circle Up.

“I’ll cry five times at Circle Up,” she said. “We give all of the crew members pins for completing the summer, but they have to stand up and tell everyone why they deserve them. Last year, there was a kid of about 19 who said, ‘I came here to learn to build trails and to find a family, and I did both.’ These guys stick together.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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