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Steamboat Magazine

A Day as a Rocky Mountain Youth Corp Trail Crew Member

07/18/2018 11:15AM ● By Alesha Damerville

Images by Sidney Peterson

By Sidney Peterson

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – It’s week five of a 10-week adventure, living as a minimalist out of two packs, working from dawn until dusk, camping under a blanket of stars in Northwest Colorado, and constantly interacting with nine individuals who just so happen to triple as your coworkers, friends and, perhaps, even family. Welcome to the life of a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Trail Crew member. 

RMYC is a nonprofit based out of Steamboat Springs that has offered programs and service opportunities to young adults and teens since 1993. Twenty-five years ago, seven people led the first team, and today, hundreds of passionate people from all walks of life follow their legacy, committing themselves to a season of service.

All members begin their journey at the beginning of the summer at the headquarters in Steamboat before they split off into their designated crews. Ryan Banks, RMYC’s program director, says this season they “have 12 crews for adults (ages 18-25) in Northwest Colorado. Ten are trail crews, one is a chainsaw crew and one is a chainsaw and fire crew.”

Once the training is completed at headquarters, the teams take off to begin work at their first project site. All crews venture off to different places, yet their projects are similar: physical labor, completing conservation projects that range from creating mile-long trails to replacing fences. 

The members of the trail crew “Hawkeye” began their RMYC journey completing two backcountry projects near Dinosaur National Monument. There was no cell service nor contact from anyone outside their crew for eight days, and this was the time that the 10 crew members bonded the most. 

However, on Wednesday, July 11, the 10 members of the trail crew “Hawkeye” spent their work day within the city limits of west Steamboat, along Indian Trail road, building water bars for a new trail they created at Sunlight Subdivision. 

The sun was beaming, the trail had no shade, and the temperature was in the upper 80s, but there were no complaints. The team was preoccupied; crew members took turns digging and smashing rock, all while participating in the heated word-game “Contact.”

This work definitely takes a toll physically, yet all agreed that it is absolutely worth it. 

Being able to see the progress that the team has made day-to-day is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

“I had never thought about what goes into building a trail before coming out here,” admits Megan, 20. “It is very rewarding, especially if you like hiking or going out on trails. You learn to be more appreciative.”

Anna, 21, a crew member from Michigan, had never hiked prior to joining RMYC. Nevertheless, in the past five weeks during the group’s recreation time, she has hiked in three different national parks with the crew.

“In the beginning of the season I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but everyone here is very supportive,” Anna says. “You know, we were doing a seven-mile hike at 9,000 or 10,000 feet, and I didn’t know if I was going to finish it, but they said,‘Yes you are.’” 

The program is 24/7 for the entirety of the 10 weeks. Even after the workday is over, the crew loads up, heads back to the shared campsite, cooks and eats as a group and sleeps in neighboring tents.

Noa, the assistant crew leader of Hawkeye, made the analogy, “You spend maybe an hour a week with a new friend getting coffee, and that progressively increases, but we spend 24 hours a day together for seven days and we feel like we’ve known these people for months. Time works differently.”

At around 5 p.m., the team left the project site for the day, headed to the nearest Kum & Go, then trekked up the bumpy road in the van to their hidden campsite on Buffalo Pass. 

Evan and Noa, crew leader and assistant crew leader, prepared a quinoa dish because it was their turn for dinner duty that evening. Seven crew members lounged on the trailer, swatting pesky mosquitoes, and conversed with each other as they waited for dinner. 

After the short pre-dinner ritual, the 10 grabbed dishes and sat together in the trailer once again as they ate and discussed future plans of hiking a 14er together in a few weeks. 

The sun was just starting to set as the group began their nightly debrief session. As each member spoke, the others listened intently and respectfully. It was an open time to speak your mind; if one wanted to read aloud a page of the novel, recite their favorite poem, or just reflect on the day, they could. 

Hawkeye’s group leader, Evan, shared a quote from the novel Fahrenheit 451during the debrief. He was drawn to the character Montag, whose “veil was lifted” after experiencing the world outside of his accustomed life. In the novel, Montag said “I’ll hold on to the world tight someday. I’ve got one finger on it now; that’s a beginning.”

Involvement with RYMC has allowed these young individuals to step back from the chaotic nature of modern life. After this summer, each member will head back to civilization and perhaps down a different path, but for now, they enjoy and are appreciative of their experiences in the outdoors.

“We’re young and it can be overwhelming that we might not know where we are going or what we’ll do,” Evan says. “One day Montag will have the world in his hand, but right now he has a finger on it, and that’s enough for now. Maybe this is understanding that you don’t have to know where you’re going, but you know where you are now. With this positive mindset, it shows that in his case, he feels that he can handle whatever is thrown at him wherever he goes.”