Weber Basin Job Corps Trails Center of Excellence Pilot Program

By Marshall Thompson
Intermountain Region
August 25, 2023

The sound of a diesel engine growls to life as heavy equipment is being started to warm up for the day.  Not far from there, students from the Weber Basin Job Corp listen intently to what the focus for the day will be.  

A person uses a mini excavator to work on a trail.
A Weber Basin Job Corps student operates a mini excavator to improve a trail on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

This is not a typical workday for the Weber Basin students. Today is the first day of a weeklong training where they will learn about completing trail maintenance and construction techniques utilizing mechanized equipment. After that, they will be spending four weeks on the ground putting that knowledge to practice maintaining trails on the adjacent Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. These five weeks of training mark the beginning of a pilot mentoring program known as the Weber Basin Trails Center of Excellence.

While trail maintenance is not new to the Job Corps, this newly designed training focuses on the use of heavy equipment in trail maintenance and reconstruction.  Absent are the large bulldozers or excavators that you might see in road construction, these students are learning how to utilize smaller bulldozers and excavators. These unique pieces of equipment allow for advanced trail reconstruction and maintenance projects on motorized and non-motorized trails.

“Teaching these students how to use the mini dozer and excavator allows for reconstruction or rerouting of a trail that involves moving larger objects or amounts of dirt, that would be difficult and time-consuming if done by hand,” explains Larry Velarde, Trails, Travel Management and Dispersed Recreation Program Manager for the Intermountain Region.

“Maintenance that would take weeks to complete by hand, can be accomplished in less than a day with skilled operators,” added Troy Street, Forestry Trade Instructor for the Weber Basin Job Corps.

A person uses a motorized wheelbarrow to move dirt.
A Weber Basin Job Corps student operates a motorized wheelbarrow while improving trails on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Cheryl Butler, the Recreation Trails and Wilderness Program Manager for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, describes the training as a beneficial outcome for the agencies involved and the students.

“The students receive advanced training that will benefit them in future career endeavors, and it helps them gain an understanding of the work involved in providing recreation opportunities on their National Forests,” she said. “The Forest Service benefits from a program that will be training students that we would love to see obtain employment within the agency. Second, it provides an opportunity for staff that work for the Forest as well as partners to receive this valuable training. Last, as a part of the training some much-needed trail maintenance work gets completed.”

The potential to take the knowledge and certification they receive can help advance the students into several career choices with the Forest Service, State of Utah, or private industry, Street said. 

The Weber Basin Trails Center of Excellence program started from needing to find a way to continue providing mechanized equipment training and on-the-ground mentorship in trail maintenance and construction after the Forest Service Washington Office Enterprise mechanized trails program ended. The need was recognized at all levels of the federal land management agency.

A worker uses an angle grinder to sharpen a mini dozer blade.
A Weber Basin Job Corps student uses a hand grinder to maintain the blade on a mini dozer during a weeklong trail maintenance training.

“The Weber Basin Job Corps, Intermountain Region, and the Washington Office Enterprise Program saw a great opportunity to initiate a program that could eventually expand beyond the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest,” Velarde said. “As part of this transition, several pieces of mechanized equipment and trail tools from the mechanized trails program were transferred to the Weber Basin Job Corps. This was a great benefit to the program and set Weber Basin Job Corps up for success with the right tools needed to do the work.”

Another critical piece of year one being successful was the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest’s ongoing partnership with the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation. Grant funding from the Recreation Trail Program that the Forest had received was approved to be moved from a prior project to support this pilot program. This was matched with internal agency funding in a way that allowed the pilot program to begin. Due to the success of year one, year two funding is again primarily coming from an Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Grant (OHVR) through the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation, and OHVR grant funding has been secured for a third year for this program to continue in 2024.

A worker uses an angle grinder to sharpen a mini dozer blade.
A Weber Basin Job Corps student operates a mini dozer to compact the soil while improving trails on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

“In the first year, the training consisted of twelve students that came from the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Weber Basin Job Corps, the State of Utah, and Forest Service employees from the Tahoe Basin area of California,” Butler said. “Now in year two, we’re getting multiple requests from partners in Utah, and other Forests in the region to have students attend. People are getting word about this successful pilot program and are wanting to send their employees to receive this training.”

Scott Johnson, Trails Mechanized Training Specialist with the Washington Office is seeing a potential to expand the program within the Forest Service.  

“We’ve had additional interest from other Forests and other Job Corps Centers across the country to initiate similar training programs,” he said. “The second year of this pilot program has shown the need to continue adding additional opportunities and building on what’s been accomplished.”

“It’s due to the collaborative efforts from all the programs involved that has made this pilot program such a success,” Street said.  “It’s great to see the immense support from all levels to continue and grow this program.”

The Weber Basin Job Corps Center of Excellence was a collaborative effort coordinated with the Forest Service Washington Office Recreation Enterprise Team, Washington Office Trails and Travel Management Program, Intermountain Region Recreation Staff, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Trails Program Manager and Trails Managers, and the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation.

A before and after photo shows the same trail with improved access for motorized use.
A before and after photo shows the same trail with improved access for motorized use upgraded by students from the Weber Basin Job Corps.

For more information regarding this training program, please contact Larry R. Velarde with the Intermountain Region, Cheryl Butler with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest , or Troy Street with the Weber Basin Job Corps.