Conservation Corps – In the Field: Week 4

This week, your friendly neighborhood Estes Crew spent time working with the NPS Vegetation Team. Nothing feels better than starting work at 7:00 am, those extra 30 minutes can be a life-saver.

The very first day of the week we jumped right back into being Leafy Spurge’s worst nightmare. In only 15 acres at McGraw Ranch, we sprayed 332 stems before wind speeds over 14 mph ended our streak. So back to NPS HQ we went, still hungry for more. At the greenhouse, we did plenty of weeding to help those native plants grow big and strong.

On Tuesday, we were out at the Secret Garden (whose location will be kept a secret) to install small mammal fencing around the perimeter. The garden is used by NPS as a seed increase so that they have more native grass and plant seeds to use around various other projects. Over 8 pounds of seeds were collected last year in only the second year of operation! Seeds aren’t even expected until the 3rd year. Wowza! So, shovels in hand, we went to dig trenches around the perimeter. However, these were not just any trenches, they were trenches fit for kings 18 inches deep, and 6 inches wide. We dug until our dogs barked and our hands calloused. We dug, not for recognition, but for the love of the plants within the fence. We just knew we had to keep them safe from those ferocious chipmunks and ground squirrels. By the end of the day, we had dug about 50 yards of trenches. Back at camp, we were proud of the dirt we had dug and were excited to get out there the next day. We fell asleep dreaming of picking rocks from the soil…

Wednesday was a repeat of Tuesday, just with achier backs to start. About another 50 yards of trenches were dug with wire fencing going in throughout the day in 9 foot chunks. We were working independently without NPS staff, so we dug deep within ourselves to continue to dig deep within the soil. We ended the day closer but knew we had much work ahead of us. We slept like babies.

On Thursday, the mission was to complete the fence. It was almost sad as we put the last section in because we knew this would be our last day working with vegetation for the summer. We learned many lessons this week, but the most important one was that Denisse is the best hole-digger on Estes Crew.

-Rafael, Estes Crew Leader of the Week

This week, the Boulder Crew started working on the South Boulder Creek Trail in James Peak Wilderness. Monday began with an introduction to turnpikes and us hauling dirt to fill one in. We hiked up the trail and stopped at a section that could pass for a river.

Two men in hard hats working in the woods.

Needless to say, we were splattered with mud from head to toe. However, we proudly displayed our “war paint” and finished the job. The next day, we focused on constructing water bars on that same part of the trail. It was insane to immediately see the water divert off the trail. By Wednesday, our water bars had been effective and the tread was drying up. We continued on with drains, dug borrow holes to fill in the turnpike, and did maintenance runs to ensure our work was up to standard. On Thursday, we decided to finish strong, knocking out multiple projects. Our crew dug three drains, built two staircases, two check steps, one water bar, and finished the turnpike. We decided to conclude the day by dipping our heads into a stream on the trail, one of our best ideas yet. All in all, it was a successful week for our crew!
A group of people posing for a photo in a field.

-Sam, Boulder Crew Member

The Moraine Crew began its week by arriving at the project shop at 6:30am Monday morning. We sanded and used the rotor to prepare boards for picnic tables. We sanded 9 boards and ran the rotor on all 15 before we had to clean up and head to the campsite to prime the inside of building 615 (a comfort station). The crew spends some time in the shop before heading to the campsite as a courtesy to campers while they get up and prepare for their day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

We completed all of the priming by splitting into two teams of 3. After completing the priming, the crew cleaned up the mess and headed back to the project shop. At the shop, we worked to clean the brushes we used all day. We wrapped up the cleaning just as the day ended, hopped in our government vehicle, and headed back to our cabins. As usual a small group headed into town and go to the grocery store or the library and others would stay behind. Once 7 o’clock hit we knew it was dinner time for our crew.

After a good night sleep Tuesday rolled around and the Moraine crew arrived at the project shop at 6:30am. We once again worked on sanding boards as prep for building the picnic tables. Since we had a longer day of painting than the previous day we only completed 4 boards before we needed to clean up and head to building 615. We spent the rest of the day putting 2 layers of latex paint on the beams and ceilings. 

Wednesday welcomed us with another beautiful morning. Before heading to the project site, we finished sanding the boards in the morning. At the comfort station, we spent the whole day putting 3 layers of epoxy paint on the cinder block walls, while two crew member helped our NPS leads mix and pour cement. After 3 long days of painting, our crew learned that painting is quite the workout. 

A room with white walls and a window.

Thursday was our last day of the work week. We got to the project shop at the usual time and started to put the first layer of stain on the boards we had prepped to build picnic tables. After one layer of stain, we cleaned up and headed to Building 615. Once we arrived, four members of our crew caulked the interior of the comfort station and touched up the paint. The other two members joined one of the NPS staff in helping dig a trench to connect electricity to the comfort station. The trench was roughly 14 inches wide, 18 inches deep, and about 30 feet long. Luckily there was a mini excavator to help us out. 

An excavator digging a hole next to a house.

We finished all our tasks on this site and cleaned up around building 615. We took a late lunch and after a long work week Ben was ready for a nap. He went to lay on a nearby picnic table to rest before being interrupted by a very curious ground squirrel who decided to crawl on his leg. Understandably Ben jumped up and the little squirrel would run off. After a nice laugh our lunch was over and it was time to head to a nearby campsite. At this campsite we used the project shops dump truck to bring a bunch of rock to an area that had a large amount of erosion near the road from recent rain. After a long day we headed back to the cabins excited for our weekend. 

A group of people standing next to a truck.

For the weekend, the crew left at 3:30am to head to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. We had to head out early because the back-country permits are first come first serve. After about 6 hours with some stops, we arrived at the magnificent sand dunes. We got there around 9:30 and were able to get our permit. First, we hiked to Zapata Falls which was a short hike but very nice. We came back into town for lunch, before heading beginning our hike to our back-country site. It was about 6.5 miles that consisted of a lot of ups and downs as well as a ton of mosquitoes. Even with bug spray we got a lot of bites Once we arrived at our site we hurried to set up our tents to escape the mosquitoes. We got the tents set up and fell asleep very quickly because of our long day. The next morning, we hiked back to the car get some breakfast and go to Medano Creek for a couple hours before we made the long trip back to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

-Nick, Moraine Crew Leader of the Week

The Rawah Crew had an absolutely spectacular week! After celebrating Zoe’s birthday Sunday night with a huge southern feast, the crew packed up supplies for another week of camping in the Rawah Wilderness. On Monday morning we left the Hunker Bunker bright and early to meet Geoff at the trailhead of West Branch. Geoff spent the morning with us on this maintenance run and left in the afternoon to visit the High School Leadership Corps over on Young Gulch. Our first day on West Branch went super well! The night was spent camping in a BLM field. Nidya prepared quinoa vegetable burritos and had a gigantic guacamole/salsa platter as an appetizer. The possibilities are endless with car camping!A group of people eating nachos.

We returned to West Branch on Tuesday. Mario and Blake were on saw team, bucking trees all the way to the snow line! We enjoyed even more beautiful views of the Laramie River as we dug drains further down the trail. Quinoa tasted so great the night before that Miles had to make it a repeat experience!

A group of people posing for a picture.

Our maintenance run on the Blue Lake trail this past Wednesday brought its own set of difficulties but the crew soldiered on, and made a successful day out of it. On the bright side, we found ourselves becoming serious car campinging experts! Sometimes, the biggest blessing a trail dog can receive is not having to hike dinner in!

Thursday brought us to the trailhead of Roaring Creek, a small trail winding through the hills of the Poudre Canyon.  Due to the late snow melt this year, some of the creeks look more like rivers, and “Roaring Creek” did not disappoint.  After the day’s work was over, the whole crew packed their bags (did we ever unpack?) in preparation for our walk into the park.

A group of people posing for a photo in front of a bus.
The Rawah Crew heading out on their hike into the Park
Two people sitting on the ground in front of a sunset.
Sunset on the west side of Rocky

What better way to usher in the excitement of midweek than to get the party started with a little walking! We are both looking forward to reuniting with the rest of the crews and to taking a deeper dive into one of the world’s best National Parks ever!


-James and Zoe, Rawah Crew Leaders

This week the Shadow Mountain Crew worked on Darling Creek which is located just past Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado. This area had recently suffered from a wildfire that occurred in July of 2018. We worked alongside the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and National Forest Service with the goal of clearing hazard trees, restoring trail tread, and constructing drains. We accomplished this by camping out at Darling Creek through June 25th and June 28th on hitch near the work-site along with our partners for the project. We headed, with llamas in tow, on June 25th with a 2.5-mile hike ahead of us. This first day consisted mostly of setting up our campsite, bear hangs, and setting up a latrine, as well as getting to know our new work partners.A group of people in hard hats standing in a wooded area.


The second day of hitch on July 26th had tree-felling crews sent up the trail ahead of the rest of us to clear hazard trees created by the fire last year. This mission was headed up by the Forest Service workers along with one volunteer from the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and one volunteer from the Rocky Mountain Conservancy as the swampers/lookouts. The rest of us were stationed behind them to build drains, do tread repair, and clear the corridor of the trail.

Two women working with a shovel in a wooded area.

A woman wearing a yellow hat.

Three men in hard hats standing on a trail with logs.

On this day the RMC crew was also fortunate enough to have Director of Conservation, Geoff Elliot, come out and see how we were doing – this was a pleasant treat to our hitch!

The third day was similar to the last since we had two volunteers going up with tree-felling crews to clear hazardous trees from the work-site. Since we cleared so many trees the day before we were able to really start working on the main focus of the trail by putting in drains as well as constructing a few retaining walls in order to prevent future erosion on the trail. The drains and retaining walls made by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and Rocky Mountain Conservancy that day were excellent examples of trail restoration and will be a long lasting benefit in that area.

The fourth day of work consisted of building as many drains as we could in whatever time we had left at the work-site. This day was the hottest day of the hitch so far as well as the dirtiest. Needless to say, we were all looking forward to showers when we got back. We, fortunately, were able to accomplish our goal of rehabilitating the trail up to the road with a maximum elevation of 10,400 feet. The day ended by the crews packing up camp and heading home for a much-anticipated dinner.

-Zeke, Shadow Mountain Crew Leader of the Week

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