MANCHESTER — Camping, hiking and water sports are second nature to Vermonters, but usually during the luxury of summer free time. For the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC), it's three months of work, and more.
Five youth from the corps have been working and living near Manchester recently and installed a kiosk at the Appalachian Trail head last week. The U.S. Forest Service oversees the group and built a new wooden sign at the location of Route 11 and 30 near Bromley Mountain for the crew to install. Other jobs they've been tasked with this summer include cleaning up hiking and snowmobiling trails, creating biking trails, building culverts and clearing brush on the Catamount Trail.
Cami Cupples is the only girl in this crew and hails from Jupiter, Fla. She heard about the conservation opportunity from a friend after she finished architect school.
"I wanted to take time to travel and kind of be in nature. Doing this work is very simple. It's labor intensive, but you have a lot of time to reflect. It's a really nice thing to do after laborious four years of school to take a break," Cupples said. "It's more immersive because you really get to be here all the time."
She arrived in Vermont on July 4 and plans to travel more after her time with the corps.
Bill Garrison, the Manchester Forest Service district's trail manager has worked with the conservation corps every summer since he started in 1991.
"They not only work for Forest Service, they've done work for towns, parks service, private organizations. They really expanded the program to work with numerous agencies," Garrison said. "We try and prioritize projects that are well suited to a crew of young people like this."
He said various bulletin boards or wooden kiosks that stand at the beginning of hiking trails were placed in the mid 1990's and this crew is replacing some of them.
They've also done fishery work, apple tree release, invasive plant removal, erosion work at Grout Pond in Stratton and campsite cleanup. Their services are also utilized in bordering New York towns.
The crew is given a budget for groceries. They make all of their own food and camp out near their project sites. Last week the group was able to use running water and the kitchen facility at the Mount Tabor Forest Service site.
The crew leader, Lowell Krusling, has worked for similar conservation organizations in California, Puerto Rico and Guatemala, which allowed him to obtain his current position.
"One thing I've always noticed about the organization is that a lot of the staff come up through the ranks," Garrison said about crew members who have worked for the organization for years and made their way to the top of the chain.
Krusling primarily travels and has lived abroad in Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia for two years.
"I hadn't explored the east much. I'm from Ohio," he said. "So I just sort of looked into getting this job. I like conservation work."
Krusling said he has the motherly role supervising the crew by doing all of the grocery shopping, paperwork and plans trips and assignments. He works four weeks on and ten days off.
When they're not working, the crew members go to museums, or explore nearby cities. Krusling said sometimes they just do nothing.
The leader reflected on meeting many diverse people over the years. He met a crew that was half deaf and half hearing, members that come from New Hampshire and others that find the job through the craigslist listing site.
"People come from all over. From every background," he said.
He added that most VYCC crews consist of 17 to 22-year-olds. Garrison said a lot of Vermont high school students participate during the summers as well.
"It's been a really good partnership through the years," Garrison said. "I've never had a bad experience. They're always just great folks to work with. Enthusiastic and hardworking."
VYCC is a nonprofit organization with the focus of putting youth to work tied to education, service and leadership while respecting the environment. The agency hires people between 16 and 24-years-old.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-490-6471.