Conservation Corps – In the Field: Week 8

The Boulder Crew had another strenuous yet spectacular work week on the Isabelle Glacier Trail! Thanks to the rock carries last week, we were able to get a fresh start on Monday with the continuation of building on each site. Monday began with a three mile hike from the trailhead to our campsite, and another two mile hike from our campsite to the worksite. Once we arrived to our worksite, we started building staircases and retaining walls at the four designated corners of the switchback trail. With the help of the Front Range Climbing Stewards, we were able to start the work week off strong. After work we returned to our campsite and immediately ate a delicious, savory meal of chili mac made by our stellar crew leader, Daniel.

Luke and Matt building a staircase

Our work days began bright and early which include a peek at the beautiful alpine glow at 5:45AM. Tuesday and Wednesday were hardcore work days fueled by energy chews, and perhaps several doses of natural stoke. The retaining wall was successfully finished by Tuesday, one staircase site completed with roughly 15 stairs, and the other two staircase sites still in the works with about 10 steps completed. Though we have been repairing trails for eight work weeks now, we continued to improve our skills, work ethic, and trail maintenance through the last week. It was beneficial to work alongside the Front Range Climbing Stewards to receive further direction and learn from their expertise on trail. While we were able to successfully build and get our work done, we shared a copious amount of laughter, singing, and even a full-body dip in glacier water on trail.

The completed retaining wall!

We hiked to our worksite on Thursday only to realize we would return to the glorious task of rock carrying. We grew physically and mentally exhausted, but quickly realized it was our final work day of the season – the stoke was back! We carried around 30 rocks, but were brutally interrupted by a thunder and lightning storm. With safety at our core, we ended the day a bit earlier than planned.

Reflection on Lake Isabelle on the morning hike to our worksite

Since we were drenched by the end of our final work day, we decided to treat ourselves to a delightful Thai dinner in Nederland. It is quite bittersweet that the end of the season is finally here, but the Boulder Crew is incredibly grateful for all our adventures. We have sure gained knowledge and definitely more muscle after mastering the art of rock work on trail. Cheers!

-Sophia, Boulder Crew Leader of the Week

The Shadow Mountain Crew completed their last work week doing a project with City Wild Volunteers. Our worksite was located on the Devil’s Thumb Trail near Fraser, Colorado. The main focus of the project was to first remove an old wooden bridge, and then second put in a new structure that would better allow water flow called a rock turnpike. However, the work area was rather small so the whole crew was not able to safely work in the space allowed with the volunteers.  While the City Wild Volunteers took out the bridge, our crew repaired tread on the trail and took out large rocks to make hiking easier for those using it.

Hayden, Zeke, and Malyce repairing tread on the trail

The City Wild volunteers did a great job of removing the bridge, however after they accomplished that step, their time working with us was up.

Our crew then had to finish the project by constructing the rock turnpike. We located many large rocks and brought them to the work area.  The large rocks we found were used to form the outside edges of the rock turnpike. This sounds easy, but it really is like a giant rock puzzle to ensure that the rocks fit together well and are stable. Once the outer edges were formed, many small rocks were put into the middle to be crushed with single and double jacks.

Kaylee crushing rocks with the double jack

To make the turnpike easy to walk on, mineral soil was placed on top of the crushed rock.  We were able to find this material close to the trail by digging a hole called a borrow pit.  We transported the soil to the turnpike by the bucketful.  A large amount was needed to fill the area because it easily washes away when it rains, so the more material the more likely it will stay intact.

Maylce, Kaylee, Brooke, and Hayden sitting the large borrow pit that we collected dirt and sand from

On our last day we returned to the site to do the finishing touches on the rock turnpike. Our Forest Service partner, Amy, constructed a trench that allowed water to easily flow between the turnpike rather than the trail.  The rest of the crew took out spikes in the wood that used to be the bridge with Kendra, our other Forest Service Partner, and the help of her chainsaw.

The finished product of the rock turnpike

These steps didn’t take very long, and Kendra and Amy had something pretty special for us in mind for the rest of the day. We hiked further up the trail to the Devils Thumb itself.  The hike was approximately 3 miles long of complete incline, we were all very exhausted by the time we made it to the top.  The hike was definitely worth it though, as the views were quite incredible. It was the perfect last day of working and I know that we couldn’t all be happier with our time here.  Amy and Kendra have been such a pleasure to work with and we are very thankful for them teaching us new skills and being very patient as we learn. We are looking forward to seeing them for our all crew project for the last time this upcoming Tuesday.

The entire squad being our goofy selves after we hiked up to the Devil’s Thumb to see the awesome views!

-Brooke, Shadow Mountain Crew Leader of the Week

This week Rawah Crew had quite the final adventure planned! The goal was to maintain the Big South trail in the Poudre Canyon corridor as far back as we could. The trail starts on Highway 14 and continues 10 miles to the Northern border of Rocky Mountain National Park. This week however, Rawah Crew had an especially powerful advantage. Each member of the crew had either experienced being ‘crew leaders of the week’ or were currently the leaders of the week. This meant that the crew was in its prime of leadership and teamwork for the season! Taking all of the lessons learned and successes of previous weeks into one final powerhouse of a work week.

On Monday morning, Rawah woke up in their Forest Service cabin in Red Feather Lakes, CO at 5:00am. After a hot breakfast and coffee they began the two hour commute to Big South Trailhead. We hiked in 3.5 miles, set up a base camp, and got a half a day’s work in maintaining miles three to five. Celebrating a great Monday the crew swam in an eddy on the Poudre River before resting at their beautiful campsite.

Base camp for the week on Big South!

Tuesday was to be a very challenging day, especially for the crew leaders of the week. At mile seven a footbridge that had once spanned the width of the South Fork of the Poudre River was washed out. This meant making a mid trip decision once getting eyes on the intensity of the river’s flow– ford the Poudre or enact the back-up plan! The crew worked along the river until about lunch break before getting to the old footbridge.

The Poudre river looking very healthy!

Colorado had clearly gotten a very needed and very heavy snowfall. The flow was much too burly to fjord. This meant hiking out the following day while maintaining miles one through three, then driving to Peterson Lake Trailhead which intercepted Big South from the otherside of the river. For the rest of the day the plan would be to work up another trail that connected not too far back from the footbridge.

Rawah’s Wednesday morning began at seven, our job hazard analysis circle engulfed in a warm yet gloomy sunrise coming over the mountains. A quick redirect of the week due to the sheer power of the Poudre River led the crew to be hiking out of lower Big South Trail and transitioning to Upper Big South via Peterson Lake. The Wednesday hike out from Big South was filled with clearing drains with full packs, momentary treats of wild berry picking, and appreciating interactions with trail users (something Rawah crew does not often encounter). From the Big South trailhead the crew drove to the Peterson Lake trailhead and set up a final and cozy campsite. Zoe and James cooked a delicious dinner of burritos that left the crew all happy and very full. The final night of the final hitch was a warm and loving one for the Rawah crew, stories, memories, appreciations, and challenges were shared in a circle as we hid under a tarp to take refuge from the rain. The bonds and gratitude shared within the group radiated throughout as the night drew to a close and the crew wrapped up and drifted off. 

James and Zoe marveling at the wild berries on the side of the trail!

The next morning was an early one for Rawah. The crew began the work day at six thirty, hoping to give a lot of love to the upper Big South Trail and wrap up. The forest that the crew worked in on Thursday on the upper trail was far different from that of the lower part, the trees and plants were mystical, tied with a gloomy cloud cover the forest felt magical, a perfect way for the crew to end their last day. The Rawah crew ended their last snack break in the Poudre River. A small area of calm water and a few rocks led to a wonderful swimming area. Once all ten crew members plunged into the icy water of the Pourdre it was time to say goodbye to the areas that the crew dedicated their summer too, a very bittersweet and gratitude filled moment. After departing the woods the Rawah Crew deep cleaned their summer residence in preparation to check out and head to Estes for final week. 

The forest of big south making the work each day jaw dropping.

The Rawah crew ended the season in high spirits, filled with love and gratitude for each other and the forests they got to work in throughout the summer. The Big South Trail started and ended our season of drains and trees and the crew will always hold a special piece of it with them.

– Angelee & Miles, Rawah Crew Leaders of the Week

The Estes Crew rounded out the season with a new and exciting project – rock work! We were all thoroughly pleased to take a break from our usual peeling and hauling logs to install a series of rock stepping stones up near the bog bridges we’d been working on at Black Lake. The 30-foot stretch of trail we were fixing was formerly occupied by log stringers that had almost completely rotted out.

Our first task was to remove the old stringers and all obtrusive rocks and roots. It took us four rock bars and the entirety of Monday to simply clear the trail of the several hundred-pound boulders that were buried deep into the ground. Those efforts ended up being worthwhile as we were able to reuse the boulders for large, flat stepping stones! These stepping stones will encourage visitors to keep off the muddy trail while allowing water to flow downhill between them. Estes Crew loved this week’s assignment as it enabled us to not only use our physical strength in a new way, but also to problem solve throughout the day!

Nick digging to set some stepping stones.
The crew working together with rock bars to remove large rocks!

Our time with the NPS Trails Crew ended with some rock solid career advice and many thanks from them for our work during the season. We bid them sad goodbyes as we left the Trails Shop for the last time and rolled out for finals week!

The completed bog bridge. Farewell, NPS Trails!

Estes Crew had an amazing summer working on a variety of projects with both the Vegetation and Trails Crews, and we are extremely grateful for this experience. We are all heartbroken to be leaving so soon, but eager to see what the future holds for us conservationists!

The crew showing off their freshly set stepping stones!

Peace from Bestes Crew!

-Charlotte, Estes Crew Leader

The Moraine Crew had an awesome last week with their National Park Staff mentors. On Monday, three crew members went out to the Comfort Station we’ve been working on in Moraine Park Campground and learned how to tile the back walls and how to lay tile on the floors. We are happy to announce Jazmin finished up the painting for the season! We also wrapped up our last picnic table which was placed out in NPS staff housing. 

The rest of the crew was given the chance to work with the Vegetation Crew up on Trail Ridge Road. We laid topsoil over an old social trail dubbed “the trail to nowhere”. Once the task is completed, the Veg crew will return to re-vegetate the whole area with Alpine plants to restore the area to its natural state. We continued our soil work all through Tuesday too, making lots of progress. We’ll be excited to drive by someday and not be able to find the area we restored.

At the bottom of the trail, it looks like a daunting haul. As a team we formed a fire line to constantly fuel full wheelbarrows to the top.

On Wednesday we convoyed out to Aspen Glen Campground to complete another French Drain. This one was smaller then the one our first week, but it was awesome to begin and end our season with similar projects to see how well we improved. A French Drain features a perforated plastic tube that diverts water and drains it away from areas it could erode. We spent all morning digging out the ditch and making sure it slowly sloped for proper drainage. We had nearly had it completed when it began to rain. Hard. We were nervous at first, but were rewarded with seeing the French Drain worked perfectly, and all rainwater was diverted from the campsite. Talk about instant gratification. 

A French Drain is intricate: the pipe is laid in the trench, surrounded by a plastic cloth to protect it, then aligned and covered by gravel that water can drain through easily to the pipe.

On our last day with the National Parks Projects crew, we put away our tools for the last time and said our goodbyes to the Project Shop, but before they left, they had a surprise for us. They gave us the afternoon to teach us how to operate and skid steer and a mini excavator under the instruction of Chuck. Each crew member got a chance to try out the operations of the mini excavator (so many levers and joysticks). Each one of us got to drive the skid steer around and then practice loading roadbase dirt into a dump truck. What a great last project!

Here is Jake after his turn in the Excavator. Nothing makes Moraine Crew’s day like heavy machinery!

 We ended the week saying goodbye to our housing and we’re excited to call Moraine Park our new home for this last week! That’s all for now folks!

 -Nate, Crew Leader of the Week