Have you ever wondered where those trails in the middle of nowhere come from? It’s no coincidence that six-and-a-half miles from the road there just happens to be a nice set of stone stairs leading up a hill, or a water bar keeping the trail from eroding away, or switch backs making a steep mountain easier to climb. There’s a group of people wearing blue hard-hats and brown shirts devoted to making sure the backcountry is accessible and safe for weekend backpackers to hike out and connect with nature or disconnect from society.
The California Conservation Corps has an array of duties throughout the state. The Corps maintains miles of backcountry wilderness trails with workers living in the base camp for 6 months at a time. Certain crews are among the folks battling the wildfires that are raging from Ventura County to Trinity County right now. According to their website “the Corps is providing logistical support and fire crews to suppress the flames.”
I was lucky enough to spend a few days with the Trinity Alps Crew in mid-July. Throughout the week the crew gets up with the sun and works a grueling day on the mountain side constructing a trail to reach Conway Lake and Lion Lake high in the alps. Kelly Kate Warren, the camp cook, ensures they are well fed with surprisingly exotic cuisine while John Goodwin, the C 1, leads the crew and Ian Hunter Mac Donald, US Forest Service Backcountry Trail Foreman, makes sure the trail work is up to par. On the weekdays they work on the site near base camp and backpack out to remote destinations on the weekend.
Their duties include cutting log-outs when a tree falls on the trail, creating rock bars to escort water off the trail, building stairs out of existing boulders and monitoring the wilderness for future projects. The workload is daunting and the conditions are hot. The tools they use are cross-cut saws, heavy sledge hammers, rock bars and pickaxes. They are tasked with repairing tools when they break while relying on weekly pack mules to provide food and haul away trash. If a hammer breaks they can’t simply go to a hardware store to replace it and chain saws are prohibited in the wilderness.
So the next time you find yourself miles away from civilization with a backpack and no neighbors, take a moment to appreciate the work someone did to provide the path beneath your feet. It’s no easy task to make the backcountry accessible but the California Conservation Corps Backcountry Trail Crew works tirelessly taking care of our trails so we can all visit nearly untouched landscapes.