HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — In the very first week of the summer-long stint with the Youth Conservation Corps crew, the five high school students discovered this job wasn’t going to be walk in the park.
They had been tasked with removing some nearly 20-year-old barbed wire that had protected the riparian area along Meadow Creek long enough to help the surrounding vegetation get well established.
Winding up old wire is not an easy job to begin with, but Mother Nature opted to add in some snow, hail, wind and rain just to see how they’d measure up.
All five of the 15- to 18-year-olds showed up the next morning, ready to go.
With weeks under their belt now, the Beaverhead National Forest-sponsored YCC crew has now had plenty of opportunities to work hard and find satisfaction in a job well done.
“I really do love this job,” Dustin Steele of Stevensville told the Ravalli Republic . “I get to be outside every day and I like hard work. . I can see myself doing this.”
Carmen Ebsen of Corvallis has seen enough to be convinced that she wants to work for the Forest Service.
“This job has helped me build a lot skills,” Ebsen said. “And I’ve been able to meet people who can talk to me about opportunities. I think this job is something that could really help any of us out who want to get into this for a career.”
The YCC is a summer employment program that offers young people a chance to spend a summer working on national forest lands. The projects have run the gamut from tearing down and building new fence to moving 500-pound rocks while helping to build a new trail along the edge of Lake Como.
“Some of those rocks we moved weighed more than all of us combined,” said Ebsen. “I liked the teamwork that we needed to use to get to them to move.”
Using a sledgehammer to break some of those same rocks into smaller pieces to fill the trails wasn’t quite as pleasant for her.
“You did end up with a lot of rock chips flying up and hitting you in the face,” Ebsen said. “But, in the end, we got it done.”
The YCC crew is supervised by two members of the Montana Conservation Corps. Both were in Montana for the first time.
“I joined the Montana Conservation Corps because of its focus on leadership and because it was an opportunity to spend a summer out in nature,” said MCC’s Everett Dowd.
Through the summer, he’s seen the high school crew grow as they faced down challenges of bad weather and hard work.
“There have been lots of good lessons learned this summer,” Dowd said. “They’ve learned how to work together to get projects done. It’s taught me a lot about resilience and honed my leadership skills. . This group has made my life easy. They all work together well and never complain.”
This is the third year the Bitterroot Forest has hosted a YCC crew.
Darby Ranger District recreationist specialist Sam Cook said the crew has made it possible to get a lot of different projects completed that likely would not have happened without them.
On this day, the crew was tearing out an old pole fence along Lake Como’s group site. Later that day, some would start digging post holes in the rocky ground for the new fence that would replace it.
Others would be helping Cook repurpose a huge Douglas fir that had been felled earlier in the year because of concerns that it might come crashing down on a new tent camping site. His plan was to cut the tree into lengths that could be used for seating around a new campfire ring.
“This group area is one of the most popular camping sites at Lake Como,” Cook said. “Close to 70% of the summer season is booked on the first day that we begin taking reservations. . It’s definitely one of the jewels of Lake Como and we do our best to take care of it.”
The YCC crew has spent a couple of weeks helping Cook get some of that important work on infrastructure completed.
“There is a lot of deferred maintenance here,” he said. “We have a tough time getting to some of the projects. We just don’t have enough bodies to get it all done. We really appreciate having the YCC crew here.”
All but one of the five member YCC crew hail from the Bitterroot Valley.
Seventeen-year-old Cole Wordskog of Wisconsin was the exception. After learning from a friend of the family that the Bitterroot Forest only had four young people apply for the crew this summer, he added his name to the list.
“It was the kind of job I was hoping to do,” Wordskog said. “It was a chance to make my first big trip away from home and have the opportunity to work outdoors in a place like this. . It’s been good hard work and I’ve learned so much already. Montana is very different than Wisconsin. It’s unlike any other place that I’ve been to. It’s really special.”
Wordskog thinks he’ll look for similar work next summer.
He’s not alone.
Steele, Ebsen and Isabella Sturm of Corvallis and Clara Colburn of Stevensville all said that this summer has opened their eyes to the potential of working with the Forest Service or some other land management agency. They all plan to tell their friends and family about the program.
“I’m definitely going to try to get my sisters into it,” said Sturm.
“I mean, look around,” Ebsen said. “This is our office. How can you beat this?