Thanks for all your hard work!


photo of kids atanding around newly installed sign

The YCC Field Crew plants a sign in the Uncompahgre Wilderness  (Left to Right: Kendall Cox, Annie Spencer, Ryan Nadiak, Cody Frantz).

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard that this summer.”  Crew leader Andrew Maher pulls off his salt stained leather bush hat and wipes his brow. “People seem genuinely pleased to see us up here and it’s always good to feel appreciated.”

The ‘us’ in question also includes four teenagers from the western Colorado communities of Montrose and Olathe.  Maher runs a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program for the U.S. Forest Service.  Today he and his field crew are reinforcing a crumbling section of trail above the mining town of Ouray.

It’s late on a Thursday morning in mid-July and the teens work in shifts, raising dust as they hammer T-posts into the sun baked ground. Later they wedge a railroad tie against the posts to reinforce the edge of an eight foot drop-off into the creek bed below. A layer of rocks and dirt transforms the section of trail from a nerve-wracking slither into a comfortable saunter.

photo of students hauling a large tree section

YCC Field Crew works with the Ouray Trail Group on the Blue Lakes Trail (Left to Right:  Cody Frantz, Unknown, Ryan Nadiak, Kendall Cox, Phil Wolkin).

As they do every Thursday, the crew is working with the Ouray Trail Group clearing and improving hiking trails in the Uncompahgre National Forest. “We call it OTG Thursday,” Maher says. “Working four ten-hour days; it’s nice to know the last day of every week will be spent doing trail work in some of the most beautiful country on any forest anywhere.” 

The YCC field crew also worked with volunteers from the Public Lands Partnership on a campground cleanup project; and a week-long Nature Conservancy initiative to restore Sage Grouse habitat caped off the summer in early August. “It’s good to have the variety,” says crew member Ryan Nadiak, a recent graduate of Montrose High School. “We’re not doing the same job every day and that keeps things interesting.”

Photo of 2 students working with a wrench

Meticulous work with a crescent wrench on the East Fork Trail (Left to Right: Ryan Nadiak, Cody Frantz).

Members of the YCC field crew, all 16-to-18-year-olds, work for ten weeks during summer vacation. This year the YCC program also partnered with the San Juan Mountain Association and the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado who helped fund students to provide information to visitors at the Public Land Center in Montrose and the Gunnison Ranger District office. The field crews spend about 40 percent of their time clearing and improving trails. They also string barbwire, help restore wetlands and rehab backcountry campsites in the Mt. Sneffels and Uncompahgre Wilderness Areas. “My favorite is wildlife and we helped survey an area where lynx live,” says MHS senior Annie Spencer. “I’m really thinking about studying wildlife biology when I go to college next year.”

“That’s our not-so-hidden agenda,” Maher grins impishly. “Sure the Forest Service wants to these kids to complete some labor intensive projects … But our real goal is to inspire our successors. Hopefully we can instill a love for public lands and help grow the next generation of wildlife biologists and hydrologists and wilderness managers.”

Members of the hiking public, it seems, just appreciate having their trails cleared.


Young girl placing a large rock

photo of young man swingin a pulaski
(Left) Haulin’ rocks in the hot sun near Gunnison (Kendall Cox); (Right) Cody swings a mean Pulaski (Cody Frantz).