A Day in the Life of the Youth Conservation Corps
Yellowstone’s Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) participants spend their summer break from high school amidst the rugged beauty of Yellowstone National Park. They build fences, repair trails and bridges, revegetate eroded areas, and perform a wide variety of services to assist Yellowstone.
While many of these projects take place in the relative comfort of the Park's front country areas, some projects occur in more remote, backcountry areas. These projects can be particularly strenuous, but allow the participants to experience a part of Yellowstone that the vast majority of visitors never see.
These projects are accomplished by a seven-person crew, with each member carrying a pack weighing at least 30 pounds, and possibly a string of mules carrying an average of 150 pounds per animal.
The camp equipment they need to live for a week in the backcountry includes backpacking tents, nylon rain tarps, gas cook stoves, coolers with cooking gear and food supplies, sleeping bags and pads, and pump water filters. Tools needed for the trail work typically include shovels, picks, axes, chainsaws, crosscut and bow saws, rock and crowbars, sledgehammers, bridge planks, bridge spikes, gas and oil, ropes, pulleys, and tarps.
Each day, the crews put in at least eight hours of hiking and trail labor, and much work still awaits them at their camp each evening. Yellowstone backcountry grizzly food storage regulations require food and other fragrant and tasty items--such as sunscreen and toothpaste--to be hung a minimum of 10 feet from the ground, between two trees. This requires the crew to carefully select an appropriate site, climb the trees to hang a log “bear pole” with ropes and pulleys, and hoist 200+ pounds of food up and down at least twice daily.
The trail crews also use a canola-based chainsaw bar oil product which is considered to be a food product to animals. So any container or tool using or storing it must also be secured at regulation height. Therefore--you guessed it--they must also hang their chainsaws and oil and gas containers ten feet in the air at the project and campsites.
A Yellowstone trail project has the potential to be the first exposure a young YCC crewmember receives to living and working in the woods. Imagine the myriad of new adventures he or she experiences, including digging their first latrine, then rolling out of bed to “commune with nature” when it is 30 degrees outside.
Chris Glenn, Yellowstone’s Trails Maintenance Supervisor, says that the positive attitude of the YCC youth helps keep the NPS trail crews energized.
“It is so cool and rewarding to spend extended time in the backcountry with these kids,” said Glenn “and then see the same tenuous campers emerge ten days later fired-up and ready to do it all again (after some ice cream and a hot shower)!”
One of the rewards of the strenuous trail work is the opportunity to enjoy and learn about Yellowstone’s spectacular wildlife. There is the potential to see all the wildlife of Yellowstone at any given time in the backcountry. Common sightings for crew in the backcountry include elk, bison, deer, grizzly and black bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, badgers, pine marten, weasel, tree and ground squirrels, rabbits, beaver, muskrat, river otter, bald and golden eagles, osprey, hawks, and peregrine falcon. Occasionally, they even spot a rare and elusive mountain lion.
Of the many rewards the YCC participants receive from their hard work, learning teamwork may be one of the most valuable.
“It is a rewarding part of our work to see the sense of accomplishment and bonding that the kids come away with at the completion of their project,” explained Glenn.
“Being a part of the positive experience that the kids receive and in turn, giving back – such as cooking for their crewmates, or pulling together with a joke and a song on a cold, wet day -- helps us all grow and have fun together. The collaborative relationship that the YCC and the Park Service trail crews maintain is a true gift to us all.”