Coronado Youth Corps at Happy Jack
On June 11th, 2018, the Coronado Youth Corps assembled to undertake a massive project near Happy Jack Arizona. An 18-mile reroute has been designated for the Arizona Trail, a project that is estimated to take three years to complete. They are the first of many Youth Corps and volunteer groups to come on this 3-mile reroute, intended to take the Arizona National Scenic Trail off forest roads and onto a single-track trail. Three expeditions in three previous months have prepared each crew member with the experience necessary to undergo this project. It would prove to push everyone to their physical and mental limits, demanding everything each one of us had. Though the work was tough, the rewards were immediate and obvious. This Coronado Youth Corps crew changed what I thought youth were capable of.
The CYC crew consisted of 10 youth from local high schools who were interested in gaining experience in outdoor leadership and work. After three preparatory expeditions, the crew geared up and drove to our project site at Happy Jack. Thanks to Summit Hut, a local outdoor gear shop in Tucson AZ, each crew member was equipped with a professional tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Some of the crew had never camped before. None of them had camped for as long as we planned. Thanks to this donation the youth were not only able to participate, they were able to work hard and rest comfortably. It takes bravery to sign up for a project like this, because not everyone in the crew is “fit” or fully “competent” in this work in the beginning. Yet regardless of the uncomforts, deep into the woods of Northern Arizona, far from cell reception, family, and friends, the work began.
The trails rout was pinned flagged from scouting trips. We followed these for approximately 50 yards before we began. McLeod’s pulled earth, creating a visible path for picks and pulaski’s to remove rock, grasses and plants. Others in the crew set out with loppers and hand saws, removing impeding foliage. It is incredible how quickly a trail can manifest, seeming like it’s always been. The crew produced such efficient and effective work, we completed .3 miles of trail on our first day, that’s 1,584 feet or 158 feet per crew member. The second day our trail found itself passing a forest of boulders and rocks. This slowed us down a bit, but not much. Using rock bars and picks, we all worked endlessly pulling boulders from the ground when the trail could not go around. This pumped our muscles, strained our backs, and blinded our eyes with salt soaked sweat. Though it was tough, it was addictive and the crew often became focused on pulling rocks, even if they did not need to. Though we made less measured progress, we built another .2 miles or 1,056 feet of trail. This means we built half a mile of trail in two working days, an incredible accomplishment for this crew, or anyone for that matter.
Camp time was spent socializing and eating large calorie filled meals. The camp area was under ponderosa pine forest canopies and next to a mile-wide grassy meadow, allowing for massive starry night skies and pine tree comforts. Our work days began at 6 am with breakfast and cleanup, before trail work that lasted until 5 pm dinner. We planned for three full days of work, but lightning on day three caused seven forest fires within 20 miles of camp. Due to our remote location, we had no choice but to evacuate on day four. Though unfortunate, this type of obstacle is a common reality for this work and a great experience for the youth. Safety is always our first priority.
In two days, the CYC built 1/2-mile (2,640 feet) of trail. That’s 264 feet of trail built per crew member. Ten youth from Tucson are now responsible for constructing a piece of Arizona’s national scenic trail. They did more than repair or improve, they created, and were paid and supported by their community while doing it. This is how we plant the seeds for our future stewards.