The Land is a Launching Pad

The Land is a Launching Pad

Crew leader Mikala starts her work day early – meeting her team at the Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) headquarters in Denver by 6:45 am. After loading the van with water, tools, safety gear and food, Mikala and the crew head to Floyd Hill Open Space in Clear Creek County.

The crew members working on Floyd Hill Open Space for three weeks this summer are a diverse group of young adults who hail from around the country, and even the world. Team members join the Youth Corps for a variety of reasons. Victoria, originally from Alabama by way of Portland, Oregon had prior experience working on a farm, and knew that she wanted a job where she could work outdoors, and not feel “so cooped up.”

Julia, 22 is from Houston, Texas. She came across the MHYC opportunity while searching a conservation job board online. A junior at Texas A & M, Julia is pursuing a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries and was looking for an opportunity to gain some practical work experience for her resume.

Prasham who is 24 years old and originally from Nepal, came to the United States ten years ago. Two days before his graduation with a degree in Natural Resources Management from Colorado State University in 2018, his grandmother died and Prasham’s mother returned to Nepal to attend to her funeral and religious customs. Prasham put his life and future plans on hold to care for his younger sister and father while his mother was out of the country. When Prasham found the MHYC opportunity through the CSU Handshake career platform this spring, he felt it would be a good fit for him. “I like nature, and this experience reminds me of being back in Nepal in the mountainous areas, the open skies and green woods. Through the Youth Corps I get paid, and I have this skill for my resume.”

Mikala’s team is part of the Land Conservation Program, the oldest program at MHYC inspired from the tradition of the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps. The Land Conservation Program provides opportunities for young adults ages 18-24 to participate in a variety of crew-based environmental rehabilitation and habitat restoration projects.

Through a competitive grant opportunity offered by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and the Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA), Mountain Area Land Trust (MALT) was chosen to receive three weeks of day crew work from MHYC. The goal of the GOCO funded program is to employ youth and young adults throughout the state on critical outdoor recreation and land conservation projects.

Now open to the public, Floyd Hill Open Space has a Conservation Easement held by MALT and the organization has funded miles of new trails thanks in part to a generous grant from the Gates Family Foundation. Clear Creek County Open Space manages the property and trail crews plan an additional 4+ miles to be completed in 2019.

Mikala’s crew started their work on Floyd Hill Open Space on May 28th and for the first week they labored pulling invasive weeds from the meadow at the base of trailhead. The work is backbreaking and monotonous, and the weather alternated in the typical Colorado fashion from sunny and warm to overcast and chilly with the occasional hailstorm. Despite the challenges, crew member Natalie said, “I love this experience so much. I’m getting exercise, I get to be outdoors and I’m learning about the environment. I always thought that the rule about having dogs on leash was because of wildlife, but through our weed pulling I learned much more about how invasive species are spread.”

Weeks two and three of the MHYC project involved trail building and corridor clearing, working alongside the Clear Creek County’s seasoned trail crew members Brady, Brian and Dan. “Corridor clearing is a lot of hard work,” shares crew leader Brady. “It’s not always easy for the MHYC kids to keep up – it’s a lot of heavy lifting and moving, but they hang in there and give it their all.”

Alex is the MHYC assistant crew leader and a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in Environmental Studies. “I like working outside, trail building, learning to identify the plants and trees, and most importantly I feel like I’m developing leadership skills. I like instructing and teaching and think maybe there’s a future for me in managing groups of people. The MHYC program is really giving me a chance to experience something new…they give you a chance to explore.”

Kevin, 22 is from Springfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with an Environmental Science degree. “I have a passion for the outdoors, and I’m very interested in ecology. I felt like there weren’t as many opportunities for me back east, so I skipped graduation, rented a Penske truck and moved everything I have. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but maybe this is my launching pad. I’m networking and I want to see what’s out there.”

Trevor’s life experience is a little different from his crew members, as he is pursuing a nursing degree and ultimately would like to be a flight nurse for search and rescue operations. “Combining my EMT and medical skills with being outside is more suited to me. This program is really good…everyone here has a unique story, and I love the personalities that each person brings to the team.”

“This has been a very good experience for me. I didn’t think I would make friends, but it turns out I have, and my crew is terrific,” shares Julia.

This is crew leader Mikala’s third tour with MHYC. “I love being outside – working in an office feels like the opposite of what I want to do with my life. Having management responsibilities and a leadership role is something I’m really enjoying.” When asked about her career goals Mikala says, “I don’t know yet…it might be hard to find something else as fulfilling as this.”

The crew of the MHYC are an inspiring group of young people, dedicated to stewarding the land and developing skills and friendships to last a lifetime. The only complaint about their work? “I don’t like how early we have to get up,” laughs Natalie.

Together the MHYC team and MALT are saving the land…and leaving a legacy.