Guest Column: Thank you, youth corps

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MEEKER | Hey Meeker hikers and mountain bikers! We’re about to get a new trail that starts at Ute Park and will connect to the existing trails across China Wall. Additionally, for youngsters and oldsters, an easier circular side trail with less incline is included. A new parking lot and pedestrian gate have been added at the west end of the park.

Soon, Ute Park will not only be home to the Meeker Sheepdog Trials and cattle grazing, but a new local place to enjoy the great outdoors.  This is the area you see when coming into town at the intersection of Highway 13 and Main Street. 

This project comes to Meeker thanks to community surveys concerning possible town improvements and was initiated by Alan Czepinski with the BLM and support of the Town of Meeker which owns the Ute Park property. Additionally, the ERBM Rec and Park District helped plan the trail and sponsored a day of work by volunteers in honor of National Public Lands Day. Thanks to some 25 hard-working folks, approximately a quarter of the new trail was completed in one day. This is tough volunteer work requiring picks, shovels, and lots of rock moving. 

Recently, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps was brought in to build another section. The Colorado Youth Corps Association provides summer jobs for some 1,500 youth and veterans every year. Their work teams do a variety of things including trail construction, fence construction and removal, invasive species eradication, energy and water conservation, and historical preservation. 

Along with getting a paid job, corps members learn useful job skills, experience the conditions of “real” job responsibilities, function as a team, and develop an appreciation for protecting the environment.  Their jobs are labor intensive and outside. Our recent visiting crew were camped at the fairgrounds when the temperatures were as low as 26 degrees.

According to a 2018 report, 26% of these Colorado youth had no prior work experience and 42% came from low income households. As a result of their corps experience, many workers go on to education and jobs that support environment protection.  Additionally, an intern program, educational scholarship assistance, and federal education loan reduction are supported for qualified individuals.

Admittedly, I am a huge fan of the Youth Corps because one of our sons worked with a team out of Weld County. Initially I didn’t feel working as a manual laborer was a good match to a college graduate. But Kyle learned how to safely operate a chainsaw for eradicating invasive species and more importantly, educated youth about the importance of water in our state along with other environmental topics. Eventually, he became an intern and then a full time BLM employee who now champions youth projects, paying his experience forward. 

When our communities support these young folks in the early days of their working lives, we are not only getting hearty workers for our projects but contributing to the stability and growth of our young people who often have a hard time finding a summer or any job.  I truly came to respect the Colorado Youth Corps when I attended the year end awards ceremony at the Colorado State Capital in 2012.  This event made it very apparent that this program spreads out all over our state, giving support to environmental projects and employing our youth. 

I salute the partnership of all the organizations involved working together to make the Ute Trail project happen. To the town who is responding to citizen input, funded some of the labor, and provided the youth with lunch. To ERBM for trail design assistance, rounding up volunteers, and lending trail building expertise. To BLM who also owns some of the property involved, got the ball rolling, providing onsite supervision and coordination with the Youth Corps. 

Plus, a big thank you to Colorado Youth Corps for bringing a crew of workers to our town to assist this project. Safe travels as you move onto your next project. 

By the way, our local White River BLM field office provides annual funding of 14-15 year old youth project positions and most youth selected come from Meeker. Lisa Cook, Town Manager, says the town has always been supportive of the Youth Corps projects.

My thanks to Sean VonRoem, ERBM; Luke Smith and Maribeth Pecotte of BLM; and Lisa Cook, Town of Meeker for contributing to this article.

By KAYE SULLIVAN | Special to the Herald Times