Written By: Zach Champ
Photos By: Zach Champ (Unless otherwise stated)
Are you seeking life’s next big adventure?
Do you crave for amazing, unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that will help you grow and reach your true potential?
Do you want to make money doing something fun?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you probably are the perfect recruit for one of the many Civilian Conservation Corps programs available to join this summer and fall season!
Don’t miss out on learning about this great and historic program that allows you the chance to make a difference in our nation’s Forests, Mountains, Parks, Range-lands, and more!
WHAT IS THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS (CCC)?
The Civilian Conservation Corps was originally a historic federal public relief program that was in existence from 1933-1942. The original CCC was designed and instituted by Franklin D. Roosevelt under his New Deal legislation to help stimulate the American workforce and economy, and helped raise us out of the Great Depression. The CCC at its peak was able to help close to 300,000 young American men to find work and provide income for their families.
A colorized historical photo of one of the original Civilian Conservation Corps units.
Today the spirit and legacy of the original Civilian Conservation Corps live on through state-based Conservation Corps programs that are partnered with the federal AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA programs. There is also the National Civilian Conservation Corps (NCCC) program which allows young men and women the chance to sign up for 1 year service periods and get training at one of four regional campuses before being deployed to various projects around the country.
The four NCCC Campuses
With the Civilian Conservation Corps, you will be sent to some of the most awe-inspiring and magnificent wilderness in our country. You will have a chance to see landscapes that are timeless in their character and nature, and which have connected Americans over generations over the common legacy and heritage of our country’s sacred land.
You will be able to stand in the same spots that famous frontiersmen and pioneers used to occupy as they surveyed the land for the first time. Repair and maintain the same parks, trails, and structures that the original CCC constructed and created, helping raise America out of the Great Depression. Connect with nature through a totally immersive working and recreational program that will leave you with lifelong memories.
Most importantly, you can have the opportunity to serve our country in a way that sustains our environment and which promotes growth and positive change. There is no greater feeling than being part of the greater good!
WHY SHOULD YOU JOIN A CONSERVATION CORPS?
There are several benefits of serving in a Civilian Conservation Corps program. In fact, I would consider the Civilian Conservation Corps to be a great choice for those looking to create a solid foundation for their careers after college or high school. Especially if you are interested in working in a skilled trade, public land management, parks and recreation, or forestry and landscaping. Why?
In the Civilian Conservation Corps, you learn valuable trade skills such as carpentry, forestry, masonry, and back-country camping and trekking skills. In a Conservation Corps program, you will receive professional training and certification in a variety of disciplines such as wilderness first aid, wildfire, land navigation, and other valuable skills! You should also know that the majority of these programs are part of AmeriCorps, and as a result, they provide living stipends and an end of service educational award that can be used to pay back student loans or pay for continued educational expenses.
CCC Programs help individuals grow and realize their true potential. They are tough, challenging, and difficult, but at the same time very rewarding. They are a crucible- and undergoing a CCC program will break you down, refine you, and mold you into a stronger and more integrated individual. They offer people the rare opportunity to visit and work in some of the most rugged and raw, yet beautiful wilderness in our country. Out in these wild, untamed lands, you are left to your own thoughts, and you have plenty of time to work hard, get fit, and figure out what your next steps in life are- all while getting paid and serving your country!
MY STORY WITH THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS:
My CCC story began right around the time I was graduating from Germanna Community College with my associates in the spring of 2015. I had spent the past academic year being very involved with the school and extracurricular, including serving on the Student Government Association. I had just spent a whole year seeing people grow and achieve amazing things by pursuing their hobbies and interests in school clubs. One club I really loved was the GREEN Club, the school’s official environmental and conservation club. The GREEN Club was always active trying to get students involved in positive conservation activities on the campus like planting trees or maintaining the school’s local trails.
I have always loved the outdoors. The GREEN Club had left me feeling inspired and with an itch for the call of the wild. Talking to some of the fellow club members and the student activities coordinator I learned about an organization called the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps or VYCC. Looking at their website, I was impressed and intrigued to see photos of young people like myself working and hanging out in the woods and mountains, wearing uniforms, hard-hats, and gear. The education benefits also seemed attractive, especially that I was about to graduate and would be liable to pay student loans for my associate’s degree within a few short months.
So I signed up.
I was excited when I got a phone call from one of the programs administrative staff. I had a very cheerful job interview where they asked me questions about my willingness to work outdoors 24/7, to be able to do physical labor for long periods of time, to follow program policies, and to maintain a standard code of conduct. They offered me a crew member position for the summer where I would be primarily serving at Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park in Woodstock Vermont.
To me, this was all reminiscent of my experiences at military school, and I felt eager to get to graduate and get to Vermont and start my service period.
When you have your arrival day at the VYCC you arrive at the really impressive VYCC Farm and Headquarters located right off of U.S Highway 2. It is located in the small town of Richmond, Vermont which is an only 30-minute drive from Burlington Vermont. The VYCC Farm and headquarters is a rather large property with a distinctive red barn and farmhouse, a white boarding house for the farm residential program, yurts, solar panels, greenhouses, acres of plants growing, and a cool trail system with camping platforms and bridges tucked neatly behind the farm and barn. It truly is an interesting and intriguing place with decades of history and legacy. The VYCC is one of the oldest active Conservation Corps programs in the country and has been operating since 1985.
The Historic West Monitor Barn where the VYCC Headquarters is located.
VYCC Crews usually have 1-2 crew leaders and 4 or more crew members. Crews are co-ed and separated by youth and adult (16-18 years old) and (19-25 years old). Only the adult crews participate in back-country camping, as the youth crews are primarily a high school summer extracurricular for local counties. Crews are assigned work vehicles that come with trailers containing all their working gear and equipment for the season. During orientation, you will be assigned uniforms, tents, and other gear. You will have to sign these items out and return them upon your last day of service.
The typical workday for the VYCC starts around 6 am. VYCC is a very structured program and has a pretty much hour by hour breakdown of how each working day is supposed to go. The structured nature of this program makes it a great starting program for individuals interested in diving into the Conservation Corps experience! The day always starts with a morning circle where warm-up stretching is done and important information for the day is relayed to all the crew members. After the morning meet up, the crew will embark on its morning hiking commute to its worksite location which may be 1-2 miles away. The crew will usually carry all tools it needs for the day to this work site or they may establish a tool cache if needed to allow for easiest, safer, and accounted transportation of gear and equipment. The workday lasts from 8 am until 4 pm, and crews receive a 30-minute lunch with two 15 minute breaks, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Once a week on Saturdays the crew would get the day off and had the option to go to the nearby town as a group for laundry, to visit the library, get groceries, and do other personal errands.
Part of the workday includes a WoRD session, which stands for Writing, or Reading and Discussion. WoRD is a unique part of the VYCC program where all crew members receive a copy of the special and cherished WoRD book. The WoRD book is essentially a collection of thought-provoking articles, poems, essays, and quotes with structured group discussion questions following each reading. The topics for each reading range from substance abuse to environmentalism to depression and self-esteem. The WoRD book is designed to help VYCC crew members expand their critical thinking skills and develop their opinions based on reasoned debate and moderated discussion.
VYCC was such a unique and cool program. I totally got absorbed into the experience and was excited to do more! I ended up signing up for another season right in the middle of my first summer season at Marsh-Billings Rockefeller. I was all set to take a 2-week break off when I got back from my first VYCC season, and then return for a Fall Season lasting 4 months.
That’s the great thing about Conservation Corps programs, there is no limit on how often you can participate. You can do back to back seasons and spend a whole year embedded in the wild! The only real limitation is that AmeriCorps puts a maximum limit on how many times an individual can receive the education award, so if you have maxed out on education awards and decide to complete another service term you won’t qualify for that particular benefit.
After my second season with VYCC, I ended up coming back home to Virginia. I spent a year just working and hanging out with no real clear goals or plans. I found myself falling back into bad habits and getting distracted. I begin to feel like I was in a rut. That’s when an old friend of mine from VYCC hit me up and told me about the Idaho Conservation Corps and the back-country forestry crew he just had an interview for. He told me I should apply for the same position, which I did. I soon qualified for a phone interview and was surprised when I was offered another position! Even more exciting was I was going to be placed on the same crew as my friend who recommended me since we both were out of state service members. I was super hype for this experience, particularly because I never had been west of the Mississippi before this.
The capital of Idaho is the City of Boise, seen here from above in the foothills outside the city.
When you have your arrival day with Idaho Conservation Corps you meet up at the City of Boise Parks and Recreation office building located on Warm Springs Drive. This is a typical park building set in the suburbs of a western city that is built in the middle of a desert! The park and land around the Office Building are filled with sagebrush and covered in dusty dirt and sand. You probably will see a rattlesnake or a rabbit. During the orientation process, you get assigned to your crew and get sign your risk waivers and participation agreements. You will be introduced to your crew leader who then takes you to a local business in Boise to receive your background checks. You also go to the Idaho DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to receive EBT food assistance. Backcountry trail workers qualify for food assistance as a benefit for their AmeriCorps service since they only make a limited amount with their living stipend. This EBT card becomes crucial during your off time as most ICC crews work for 3 weeks on and 1 week off at a time. This is called a ‘Hitch’ Schedule.
Passing out candy to kids for Halloween in a rural farming town called Malad, Idaho.
ICC Crews usually have 1 crew leader and 4 or more crew members. The crew leader is usually older than the crew members. Crews are assigned a work van that holds all the equipment and gear for the season. You are responsible for bringing your own personal gear with you for the ICC program. This means you will need your own tent, backpack, work pants, work gloves, work boots, etc.
Idaho Conservation Corps was the real deal. We were embedded in the middle of a literal wilderness where for 30 square miles there was no towns or civilization. The only trace of civilization was the occasional Forest Service fire tower or outpost. The typical workday with the Idaho Conservation Corps started early- we would usually be up by 5:30 am to start breakfast. After breakfast, we would all meet in our work van and proceed to head out from our base camp to our worksite location which was a few miles away from the base camp. Sometimes we would have to hike into our worksite from the base-camp, depending on where we were set up. The work day would last from 8 am to 5 pm and would include a 30-minute lunch. Breaks were taken at your own discretion.
Can't beat this morning commute!
HOW THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS MADE ME A BETTER PERSON:
The CCC helped me work on and develop important personal character traits that I have struggled with all my life.
Perhaps the most important of these characteristics was my own self-discipline. I have always been an impulsive person, and I definitely dislike it when I can’t get my way. I used to be very focused on instant gratification which was a personal flaw that held me back in my work, relationships, and even at school.
In the CCC you work long hours, sometimes for days at a time with few breaks. All the work is physical and ranges from swinging axes at trees, using saws on branches/limbs/logs, carrying heavy equipment and material long distances, and standing for long periods of time. You will definitely be exhausted at the end of each day working in a Conservation Corps program. Doing this kind of work for days on end, and then for weeks on end, will instill a certain type of work ethic in you. It will make you appreciate the raw power of the human mind, body, and crafty hands. You will be impressed with the things you find yourself doing daily, and will become a stronger and more hard-working version of your existing self.
Aim for the top of the mountain!
When you see that you are capable of living and working in the woods, for weeks on end, you realize that you are more badass and tougher than you initially thought. You realize you are able to do more than you first assumed you could. You don’t need to rely on modern conveniences to get shit done, you understand that you can spend a little more time and effort and get the same results, if not more! Doing physical labor makes you stronger and bigger. Doing campsite chores to keep basic levels of hygiene and comfort available makes you self-reliant. Working on a challenging trail building and trail maintenance project helps teach you teamwork and coordination.
Conservation Corps will definitely boost your self-esteem! All conservation corps programs are team and crew oriented, and you will be working with fellow peers who have the same interests and passions about the outdoors and environment as you. Everyone in the conservation corps from my personal experience has been great, social-able, intelligent, and caring individuals who truly believe in making a difference through the power of individual action. You will meet people from all types of backgrounds, some which may truly surprise you, but these individuals will slowly become your friends and will be part of your journey and growth. They will elevate you, and you will elevate them, and as a crew, you all will assist in helping protect, preserve, and maintain our nation’s prosperity for future generations.
Don’t get me wrong- you will be living and working with people 24/7 for weeks at a time, so there will be moments of conflict and drama. But this where the great benefit of the Conservation Corps model is seen in action- team-work and conflict resolution! You will learn how to live with people with different opinions, motives, and beliefs, but still be able to find common purpose and objective, and achieve great things!
Teamwork makes the dream work!
I keep mentioning how Conservation Corps is like a crucible, and through its challenging program will help you become a stronger person. This is very much true! Conservation Corps as a program will help make you “Trained To Go” (TTG), able to handle tough and stressful situations under pressure without giving up or failing. You can’t second guess yourself when you are using chainsaws to cut down trees, or swinging sharp axes and hand tools around. Moving heavy and cumbersome objects requires communication and coordination, especially when moving across unstable terrain. Working and living day and night in the outdoors can affect your concentration and fatigue. Rain and snow can reduce your ability to perform physical and can dampen the mood. No one wants to do physical labor while it is raining or snowing… but it has to get done! That’s why you are out there in the first place!
Embrace the suck!
One of the most important conservation skills you will learn in a Conservation Corps program is Leave No Trace Ethic (abbreviated LNT). The basic premise of LNT Ethics is that as a conservationist when you hike into the wilderness to perform research, execute projects, or for recreation, that you respect the land by maintaining a minimalist presence in your surroundings. This is reflected in how you set up base camp, how you cook and store food, how you maintain hygiene, and how you interact directly with the plants and animals around you. LNT Ethics and Principles are not the same as your traditional camping, and when you are in a conservation corps program you need to realize that this translates into chores around the campsite during non-working hours in order to maintain LNT standards.
HOW THE CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS GAVE ME AN OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE BACK TO MY COMMUNITY & COUNTRY:
Conservation Corps are often working on important critical projects for National Parks, National Forests, BLM Rangelands, State Parks, and other public properties. They work with other non-profits, federal agencies, state agencies, private and public landowners to accomplish their conservation objectives and goals.
Conservation Crews typically work on projects such as:
- Trail Building
- Bridge Repair
- Erosion Control
- Sustainable Forestry Projects
- Invasive Species Removal
- Public Education
- Habitat Restoration
- Endangered Species and Wildlife Protection
Tagging barbwire fences with bright yellow safety tags on BLM Ranch Land to help protect Sage Grouse populations in Malad Idaho.
Many people often misunderstand that AmeriCorps is a form of public service, much like the military or Fire and Rescue. In this regard, when you sign up for an AmeriCorps service position you are not ‘working’ you are serving! This is because the tasks at hand that you complete as an AmeriCorps service member are truly beneficial to a community and often are directly related to community development in some regard. Serving your country through AmeriCorps is a great way to give back to causes you believe in and is a great example of being the difference you want to see in your local community. Your direct actions as an AmeriCorps member make a great impact and truly changes lives!
AmeriCorps volunteers are often essential components of how local communities enact their local conservation as well as public education, local economic development, poverty management, and other related initiatives. Nonprofits will often rely on AmeriCorps volunteers each year to help fill labor and staffing. Without trained AmeriCorps volunteers, there wouldn’t be anyone available to help accomplish these important objectives. It may not always be glamorous, but serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer provides value to individuals looking to be part of something bigger than themselves.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT GETTING INVOLVED WITH A CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM IN YOUR AREA:
The Corps Network serves as the leading organization for Conservation Corps programs in the United States of America. You can find valuable information and news on these programs for each state, including job postings!
The best time to apply for a position in a Conservation Corps is during the Spring or Late Summer before the start of Fall Season. The average service lengths vary from 6 months to 1 year. If your Conservation Corps program is part of AmeriCorps, you will have to do a background check that includes fingerprints.
Another great place to check is the My AmeriCorps portal at https://my.americorps.gov/mp/login.do
Here you can create a profile and account and apply for Corps positions in different states.
Read our article on AmeriCorps on Hoodie Goodies!
REMEMBER THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE IS TO GET INVOLVED!