GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Hikers are goal-oriented people. Setting off from a starting point, they work their way along a trail toward their ultimate goal, enjoying a sense of accomplishment at the end.
But many hikers rarely think about how that trail got there and how it stays maintained. Unless hikers bushwhack their way to the top, they owe some of the credit for their accomplishment to an unseen, underappreciated force.
"If it wasn't for this program, the trail system at this end of the mountains would be in bad shape," said Joe Fazzi, who works for the U.S. Forest Service in Rifle. "We just don't have the recreational crew to do the trails. It just isn't going to happen with two of us."
Fazzi is talking about the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. The Youth Corps' goal is to maintain hiking trails.
The Youth Corps is a nationwide collection of crews, part of the nonprofit AmeriCorps, who spend time working outdoors to improve communities. Since 2011, the corps has been improving trails in Garfield County.
Three different crews are working in Garfield County this summer. They include the Community Development Crew (ages 14-16), Regional Youth Corps (ages 16-19) and Conservation Corps (ages 18 and up). Twenty-three Garfield County residents are working for the Youth Corps.
Last month, the Conservation Corps was working on the Mitchell Creek trail in Glenwood. The 10-person crew has been working on trails in Garfield County since June 3 and will be continuing until Aug. 12. The crews stay on site for a week or more, camping out along the trailheads until their work is done.
Drew Langel is the crew leader in his third year with the Conservation Corps. He and assistant crew leader Chris Braun direct their crew on the maintenance that each trail needs.
"If the trail is in bad shape, we go up with hand tools and might have to reroute sections, widen the trails, create water diversion structures, retaining walls and do rock work, especially with eroded soil," Langel said.
The crew has members from all across the country. Langel is from Glen Ellyn, Ill. Braun is from Breckenridge.
One of their members, Marge Kneuer, is from Rochester, N.Y. Kneuer is also a crew member for the Mercyhurst University's rowing team in Pennsylvania. As part of a tradition within her team, Kneuer decided to join the Conservation Corps for this summer.
"I'm the fourth team member to do it," Kneuer said. "I've never done anything like this before. It's been a life-changing experience so far."
The Conservation Corps demands a lot of hard, physical work from its members, but it's so much more than trail maintenance.
Members who complete the requirements receive a stipend of more than $1,400 to go toward any educational pursuit they choose. The Conservation Corps also requires 100 hours of educational experience.
"It can be anything from crew members teaching each other something useful to guest speakers to going to a museum," Braun said. "Really anything educational."
The crew also has the freedom to explore all that Colorado has to offer. Workers are provided with a gas card and can travel anywhere they wish on weekends.
Without the Youth Corps and its various crews, Garfield County likely would be unable to maintain the trails in the area.
"There are so many benefits for us," Langel said, "but it's often a humbling job. If you do it right, people don't even know that there is anything different. That's kind of cool."