Corps Story: Building Trails and Life Experience at Rocky Mountain National Park

Ever thought it would be fun to spend the summer working in a national park? Talk to the AmeriCorps members of the “Rocky Crew” at Larimer County Conservation Corps (LCCC). They will assure you that yes – serving on a trail crew at Rocky Mountain National Park is a challenging, but incredible experience.

 

 

Over the past few summers, the Cub Lake Trail has been the Rocky Crew’s primary focus. With 3.3 million visitors, Rocky Mountain National Park was the fourth most visited national park last year. During the warm months, when the trails aren’t under snow, the LCCC AmeriCorps members play a critical role in maintaining Cub Lake and other popular routes.

This summer, the eleven-person Rocky Crew cleared over 450 drains. On the Cub Lake Trail alone, they maintained nearly two miles of tread and installed 16 rock steps, 14 wood steps, and six drains. They also moved countless “ankle-breakers” – large rocks that create a tripping hazard.

 

 

Kiera Denehan joined LCCC as an AmeriCorps member in 2019. She was pursuing a Conservation Biology degree at the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University (CSU). The Corps has collaborated with the Warner College in recent years to provide employment to students like Kiera who are required to take a summer course at CSU’s Mountain Campus.

“It’s cheesy to say, but the overall Corps experience was absolutely life-changing for me,” said Kiera. “As I was reading more about the position, I was blown away…First of all, the ability to work in the park is amazing – Rocky Mountain National Park is so beautiful – but also being able to give back. I think a lot of people who use trails and love the natural resources we all use are looking for a way to show their appreciation. This opportunity was the perfect way to do that.”

 

 

During their service, the Rocky Crew works side-by-side with park staff, giving crewmembers an opportunity to ask questions and practice networking. The AmeriCorps members learn about trail aesthetics and how to use tools, but they learn important soft skills, too.

“Having to camp with ten other people for four days out of the week and learn group dynamics – that’s huge for young people,” said Kiera. “[They also learn] professionalism on the job. Our crew is on the trail that’s open to the public. They get a lot of questions…They learn how to communicate about the type of work they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”

 

 

After her AmeriCorps service in 2019, Kiera returned to LCCC in 2020 as a Crew Leader. She now works as a Program Assistant. The mission of the program keeps her motivated.

“I think the Conservation Corps as a model is just incredible. The education aspect is really special and unique,” she said. “Being able to get hands-on work in a specific field and then also the program wants you to learn, wants you to have personal and professional development…that’s something I think every job should do.”

 

 

Kiera has a background in natural resources, but she emphasizes that anyone can find their place in a Corps. When they recruit for the Rocky Crew, they aren’t necessarily looking for people with experience: they want people who are excited to work and give the Corps a try.

“With an opportunity like this – particularly if it’s trail work – sometimes it’s easy to get focused on a mentality of ‘I’m tired. It’s a hard day. I just want to sleep in a bed. I don’t want to camp.’ But I’d say to reflect and keep an open mind,” said Kiera. “In the moment, you’re going to be thinking, ‘oh man, this is hard,’ but when you look back on an experience like this, that’s not what you’re going to remember. You’re going to remember all the incredible work that you’ve done. You’re going to remember the incredible experiences that you had, and you’re going to remember the people that you worked with.”

 


Reflections from Summer 2021 LCCC AmeriCorps Members

Mckenzie Palmer, Springfield, OR

What have you learned from this experience?

I learned many strategies for trail work, as well as ways to get involved in the Park Service. We learned about many opportunities for jobs at NPS for people with various interests.

What did you enjoy about this work? What was challenging?

I loved working with my team and making a tangible difference in the park. The work was very fun and rewarding. The challenging part was battling self-doubt, especially knowing that other Corpsmembers were physically stronger than me.

Why is this work important?

This work helps to create sustainable trails that allow people to continue to enjoy the park with minimal impact on the environment.

What do you plan to do in the future?

I hope to work on the NPS trail crew at a great national park (there are many).

What would you say to other young adults considering a program like this?

This program is very worth it. The people on my crew all had different interests and goals, but everyone benefited from being here and left the program with valuable experiences.

 

 

 

Georgia Port, Chicago, IL

What have you learned from this experience?

Skills in leadership, initiative and perseverance. I also learned a lot about NPS and future employment opportunities.

What did you enjoy about this work? What was challenging?

I loved seeing results and getting to work with the trail crew. The work was challenging, but very rewarding.

Why is this work important?

It helps others enjoy trails that are built sustainability to protect the park and preserve nature.

What do you plan to do in the future?

I hope to do the [National Park Service] Pathways program to be an interpretive ranger or come back as a lead!

What would you say to other young adults considering a program like this?

DO IT!! Just be ready to work hard, learn a LOT and meet amazing people.