by George Parker
If you are between the ages of 18 and 25 and think you might enjoy an entire summer of living out of a backpack and working trails in the mountains you love, there is still time for you to apply for the CCC/AmeriCorps Backcountry Trails Program. The application deadline is February 15.
The Backcountry Trails Program has been run annually by the California Conservation Corps since 1978. Until the early 1990s, it was strictly a California program, only open to members of the CCC. About 25 years ago, the CCC joined a partnership with the Federal AmeriCorps program. Now participants are actively recruited from all across the country.
Selected participants will meet in late April at the Placer CCC center in Auburn, California for a week of orientation. From there, crews will spread out across California. Two crews go to Yosemite National Park. One goes to Kings Canyon National Park. Klamath and Shasta-Trinity National Forests will each get one crew. The work location for the sixth crew has not yet been determined for this season, but in the past crews have worked in places such as Stanislaus or Inyo National Forest, or Big Basin State Park.
Once at the work location, crew members learn quickly that this is not a vacation program. You are there to work. You will spend the first few weeks getting acclimated to the mountains at lower altitudes. You will wear a CCC uniform at work. You will wear a hard hat and other personal protective equipment as required. You will maintain public trails. You will clear brush out of the trail right-of-way. You will learn the basics of dry rock masonry by repairing and building water bars across the trail. You might start repairing rock steps. If you are lucky, you might even start to learn some more advanced rockwork techniques, like causeway or multi-tier wall.
You will use your weekends to explore the area on foot. You don’t have to wear your uniform on weekends. You will be expected to follow a strict Buddy System, only leaving camps in groups of no less than three people. This is for safety purposes. You won’t be in a highly traveled local park. You will be experiencing the Wilderness.
Through the School of Hard Knocks, the Backcountry Trails Program has developed rules over the forty years of the program. The Buddy System is one of them. You will take a sobriety pledge. Drugs and alcohol are forbidden. You will be fired if you cannot follow these rules.
You will also build into a team. Crews are typically 15-18 Corpsmembers and a CCC supervisor, or C1. You will work closely with trail workers and a cook from the sponsoring agency, either the National Park Service or the United States Forest Service. Over the summer, you will bond with your crew in a way that few civilians ever bond with a group of people outside of your own family. Louis L’Amour once wrote that “trail dust is thicker than blood.” See for yourself.
As you get stronger, and as melting snow opens access to the high country, you will move your camp higher up into the mountains and farther from any roads. Now the season really gets interesting. By now, the rockwork is becoming easier. The hiking is becoming easier, so you push yourself more and more. You already have a head start into the Backcountry, so your weekend hikes take you to places you might never have imagined. Your three-day weekends over Independence Day and Labor Day might involve a fifty mile round trip hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney, or down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, or to remote alpine lakes in the Trinity Alps that might go years between visits from humans.
When you finish the program in September, you will be a changed person. For the better. You will have been pushed to your endurance limits. You will have made it through rain and snow. You will have been tested socially. Not much can test your character quite like working trails an entire summer with the same twenty people. You will learn things about yourself that you never suspected. Your trail crew brothers and sisters will have helped shape you into a new community-oriented person. You will have helped shape them into the same thing.
And you will never be the same.
Go to the Backcountry Trails Program website for details and an application:
For stories of the California Conservation Corps, go to:
George T. Parker lives outside of Redding, California with his family. He is close to retirement, which will free up time to follow his passion and chase after stories for his blog, CCC: Hard Corps. He is also working on a memoir of his three years with the Cs.
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