Conservation Corps – In the Field: Week 7

This week the Shadow Crew teamed up with the Wilderness Crew on the Sulphur Ranger District to replace a bridge. We packed our bags full for a five-day hitch in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. We have been looking forward to this project the whole summer and were hyped that it was finally here!

We took our time on our 4.5 mile hike out to our camp site on Tuesday and enjoyed our surroundings remembering the reason why all of us are out here. We spent the first day learning about the large task in front of us and setting up camp.

A group of people riding horses on a trail in the woods.
The crew hiking out on Cascade Creek!

The crew was ready to work the next morning with breakfast and coffee in hand. The day started off great when we watched our forest service partners, Andy and Kendra, fell the 2 trees we were using for the bridge with a crosscut. Our awesome forest service partners never fail to teach us and we greatly appreciate the knowledge we have learned this whole season.

A wooden bridge over a creek in the woods.
Bridge before new stringers!

The crew split in two, some prepping the trees by peeling them and the other half removing the railing from the old bridge. After a long day and sore muscles the crew finished with spirits high and were excited to keep working on the project.

A group of people sitting on a log in the woods.
Dana, Brooke, and Amy peeling one of the trees!

The rest of the week consisted of removing the old stringers from the bridge, prepping the new ones, and building a new railing. The process of turning trees into stringers was an extensive process. We loved learning the new skills to build a bridge to make sure it is going to last for a long time.

A man working on a log in the woods.
Hayden planning the log to make a flat walking surface!

On Friday, it took all 10 of us to move the stringers to put them in place. The heavy lifting paid off when we finally placed our finished project over the creek. It was an amazing feeling seeing what were just trees 4 days ago, into two bridges. On Saturday, we attached the new railing and put the finishing touches on the bridge. With bittersweet feelings, we packed up our gear and hiked out accomplished, with a bridge under our belt.

A wooden bridge over a creek.
Finished bridge!

During the week, we celebrated ‘Thanksgiving’ on Thursday, and prepared a feast in the backcountry. In tradition, we went around and said what we were thankful for. All of us noted the gratefulness we have for this program and getting to work specifically on Shadow Crew with our amazing partners. We are incredibly thankful for this summer experience and looking forward to finishing off the season strong!

A group of people sitting on a log in a wooded area.
Crew with the finished bridge!

Kaylee, Shadow Crew Leader of the Week

This week, the Boulder Crew had our work cut out for us. As the season comes near to its end, the crew has been fortunate enough to experience diverse kinds of work to maintain trails as well as the diverse terrain and weather mother nature has set up for us. This week was no different. As we began the workday Monday, we had a feel for what was ahead of us after already hiking up tools and gear last week on the Isabelle Glacier Trail. However, this time around we backpacked in tools, but also camping gear, personal belongings, and food which truly tested our limits and endurance. Definitely felt like true pack animals.

A group of hikers hiking along a trail near a lake.

We were not alone on our journey. Alongside us was the Front Range Climbing Stewards (FRCS), who will be working with us for the last couple weeks doing rock work on switchbacks. Monday was our hike-in day. In the afternoon, we hit the trail to take the remaining tools to the cache which were hidden a fair 2 miles away from base camp on a rocky fortress of boulders and rock. The FRCS gave us an orientation to the kind of work we were expected to do which is a little more different compared to the rock work we have become accustomed to. Along the way we were caught in a rainstorm, but the showers became light enough to enjoy on the hike.

A group of people standing on top of a rock. Tuesday, we hit the ground running. As with any kind of rock work, one must find a rock to use for the structure to be able to perform the task. The FRCS’s method to increase efficiency is by collecting a plethora of rocks first before starting. Sadly, collecting rocks was anything but easy. We were used to rolling and picking up rocks on hilly terrain, but this time we were introduced to the technique of using a rock carrying device (RCD) due to the rough, talus-filled terrain. An RCD is a net of webbing that can be fastened and

picked up with rock bars or carrying bars. To make sure the net stayed tight we used a hitch, which is not a knot but a way that rope becomes tight with friction when weighted. We then dead-lifted the weight and used a stretcher technique to move them. Our work site was on a slope which we posed some challenges. Carrying rocks down a slippery slope was rough.  It was hard to find any footing and sometimes footing would loosen up and fall away as the floor was not even solid enough to hold sand and pebbles in place. Gymnastics and parkour were required to carry.

A group of people on a rocky mountain.

A group of people climbing a mountain.

By the end of the day we had carried at least 60 large rocks! Our bodies were in pain and shock at what we had just put ourselves through. We’ve been tired and sore but never like this. It was for sure the hardest work we have put in all summer.

Wednesday, we hiked up to the work site and climbed a little higher to other zones on the switchback where rocks were going to be needed as well. Already tired and sore from the day before, we marched on like soldiers working through the fatigue and pushing ourselves to heights that we didn’t know we could reach and endure! Much more slope than before we carried about 48 rocks by days end.

Thursday we finally began to work with the nuggets and boulders we had picked up. Four work zones began where the FRCS split with the Boulder Crew to get more work done and to instruct the skills that it takes for their kind of work. Steps and retaining walls were the building focus. They used different tools like a mini pick and shaping tools as well as when building they used pinning rocks and made sure that the look matched the environment. Yet they were beautiful and worked magic. After only one day of building, multiple steps were installed. Boulder crew is rolling forwards and upwards down the homestretch.

A group of people walking on rocks in the mountains.

– Rosendo Pacheco, Boulder Crew Member

The Estes Crew had another awesome week working on the bog bridges by the always beautiful Black Lake. We were heartbroken that one of Estes’ finest crew members, Denisse, spent the week staining houses and fixing corrals with Moraine Crew. In lieu, we worked with three of Moraine’s members, Nick, Nate, and Jake. None of them quite filled the void Denisse left in our hearts, but it was fun to see some fresh faces on trail.

A wooden bridge in the middle of a muddy area.
Bog bridge nearing completion!
A woman cutting a log in the woods.
Peeling Professional

Each day this week was back to our usual routine of peeling logs, hauling them to the bridge site, and assisting in bridge construction. At this point in the season, we are all practically semi-professional log peelers; we’ve transformed a simple task into a true art form. The two main bog bridges we have been working on are almost complete with decking boards laid out along the entire length of them. It’s been neat to watch those bridges go from rotted-out stringers in the ground to full boardwalks that are not only walkable, but also aesthetically appealing.

On Thursday, Rafa and I (Char) had the privilege of working with the NPS Animal Packers again as they hauled up several hundreds of pounds of decking boards and hand tools. The mules are able to reduce the 3.5 mile hike with supplies to about a half-mile hike, for which we are all extremely grateful! We loved getting to work so closely with the mules- combing/brushing them, and loading and unloading their packs. Utilizing stock animals is by no means an easy job, but rather a whole day ordeal. It is a lot of work for the Packers, but we know that the Trails Crew definitely appreciates their efforts!

Estes’ final week with the Trails Crew will be spent by Black Lake again, but this week we have a new and exciting challenge of installing a stretch of stepping stones to replace a rotted log stringer. Estes Bestes Crew is ready to rock and roll!

A man standing on a wooden walkway in the woods.
Hope geared up and ready to go!

– Charlotte, Estes Crew Leader

This week the Moraine Crew worked on a few projects at McGraw Ranch, a historical dude ranch on the north side of the park by Lumpy Ridge. It had been a while since many of the cabins had been stained. So, for the first three days of the week the crew went around and stained nearly every building. The stain will help protect the wood from moisture and increase its longevity, not to mention it looks pretty good. Overall the crew stained roughly 20 sides of the buildings located at the Ranch. In addition to staining, trim work was also done on the door and window frames. White and green paint was used to freshen up the exteriors of the framing and help further protect the wood. Everything at McGraw Ranch is historical, and most of it was constructed in the 1930’s through 50s. Nothing is meant to look brand new, but rather how it would have looked back in that day and age, and the overall crew did a great job restoring the exterior of the buildings to their former glory.

A house is being painted in a wooded area.

In addition to staining and painting, the crew fixed and replaced some corral posts, increasing the structural stability of the corral and overall its longevity.

A man is planting a tree in a field.

On the fun side of things, four of us got together on Sunday and hiked Mount Democrat, a fourteener located near Breckenridge. The winds were swift and the view totally blocked by clouds, but we still enjoyed the summit!A group of people taking a selfie on top of a mountain.

-Ben Halee, Moraine Crew Leader of the Week

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