Learning More About Ourselves Through the CCC

 Today’s post is an alumni piece written by former Fortuna Corpsmember Steven Jeffares.


Conservation can mean more than the attempts to keep certain plant and animal species, as well as ecosystems, alive.  The subtle lesson often ignored which should be quite apparent points to conservation in helping us see if we really have the will to secure or change our environment, or even the world in general.  People often see this as an over-generalization, or even a false hope, so they can confine themselves to their own misguidedness, but the more that we treat the world better, the more we are comfortable with ourselves and are willing to accept ourselves as humans.

I was often pressured by an older sibling who had previous positive experiences within the California Conservation Corps to join the CCC even well before I was old enough to join.  I often thought of it as a social challenge to me, therefore was very against the idea.  I feel maybe some others have had this dilemma.  Other people might be on the fence in deciding whether to join the California Conservation Corps to pursue some kind of self-strengthening or whether to dismiss it entirely as “just another job”.

I was not someone who had an easy life with a vast fortune of wealth or happiness just given to me.  Like many of you, I’ve had many problems to deal with on my own. I’ve had to grapple with reality in terms of what I wanted to do in life and what others had wanted me to do.

Such concepts are very necessary to survival in this world, and it is a forgotten will to live that keeps us sane. Rather, I have never known such a drive to keep going existed.  I went in the CCC thinking of it as another job; you wake up, eat breakfast then make lunch and go to work.  Well, at least when I went in it seemed to be just another job.  Until…

Until I found myself doing things I have never even imagined of doing.  I am not going to lie—some of these things may have seemed mundane or tedious at the time, but what I know now has encouraged me as a human being and as one who cares about the world around me.  Again, not easy at times…

However, I ended up joining the California Conservation Corps not really knowing what was going to happen.  A week of classes passes by fast, and before you know it, you’re out on what is referred to as ‘the grade’. On the grade, you are asked to perform numerous tasks, including a lot of work with trails, invasive species, and within the region I was stationed also helped to restore salmon habitats through rebuilding log structures in creeks.  On the way, I made many friends and superiors that I deeply appreciated.  My C-1 (the BOSS) helped me through various emotional challenges that were presented throughout my job.  Sometimes I saw it as being pushed into a mentality, but then I’d soon learn after that these lessons were sometimes the best way to deal with certain events that would pop up through future jobs and experiences.

As for the actual work, as I have mentioned before, I performed various tasks.  I had to remove invasive species from the environment.  In my northern California area, this pertained to Ammophila Arenaria (A.K.A. European Dune Grass) and Hedera Helix (A.K.A. English Ivy) mostly, though I also was instructed to eradicate other plants such as Cortaderia Selloana, commonly known as Pampas Grass.  During the summer I was also asked to trade the comfort of my apartment for two weeks for Fire Camp Support in Anderson.  This began a very emotional high tide for me, and I swam back way stronger.  Nobody was fired from our crew, and we received a very positive review for our efforts while aiding California Department of Forestry and Fire.  Also, we were asked to thin out forests of certain tree species that would encroach on not-as-rapidly growing trees and performed “Fuel Reduction”, which assisted in preventing fires from spreading to areas where people worked or lived.

One of the more exciting duties I had performed in the CCC was Salmon Restoration.  I loved it.  Never had I actually felt like I was a part of a mechanism to help something other than myself or my friends.  I had truly enjoyed watching those baby salmon swim as hard as they could as I grinded away trying to move Redwood logs into the creeks to create shelter and to help “scour” dirt away; thus creating cooler water for the salmon.  This, and removing Ammophila for the Snowy Plovers, created a strong will in me to look past myself.  Even writing this, it’s hard not to cry.  I believe this had a huge impact on my life and how I began to view myself as a living thing, with factors as any other.

Another great aspect, and this is something I’ve heard is a common task within the distinct regions of the CCC, is trail work.  It’s the job that everyone always talks about.  Everything is involved with this: Grubbing, Hedging, Pruning, and Chainsaws.  It always seemed to me a lot of people wished for these jobs, and during my time I was very honored to get to be able to work with National Park Service, who encouraged me to further pursue a job working on trails.  Unfortunately in my case I have sustained various tears and fractures to my ankles and my feet and am unable to perform that work anymore, at least until this gets better. It should be noted that none of these were work related, and the C.C.C. was compliant with allowing time off for me to recover, and my C-1 was very understanding of these injuries and would not push me past my limits.  I would heavily encourage that work, because trust me, it is much, much better than a lot of jobs you could be working.

Keeping our local environment can mean more than attempting to keep certain species and ecosystems alive.  As we live, change, and grow, I suggest that we all keep this in mind.  I may have not been able to continue with this type of work due to injuries, but I always encourage others to do so.  If I didn’t have these, you bet I’d be working with trails or preserving the nature around us.  However, even if you are injured, there are other options.  I, for one, had volunteered for the wildlife center for Humboldt County and felt it just as rewarding as the Conservation Corps.  I was not asked to do much physical labor, though I did do some out of my own will.  You can always find something to help yourself and the people around you, let alone the world.  I think the main point is:  with programs like the CCC, we’re going beyond ourselves.


Steven Jeffares

Corpsmember of 2014-2015



2017 Backcountry Season Opens

Today is the first day of orientation for the 2017 Backcountry Trail crew season. About 90 people are assembling at Placer Center for the orientation and training to accomplish the feat of spending the next five months living out of a backpack and maintaining trails in some of the most beautiful wilderness country in California. Backcountry trail crew members have come from all over the United States to dedicate the summer to the ultimate Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions…and More!!

The Backcountry Trails program in the CCC has been around since 1979, but the trails work they will be doing is part of a far older tradition. They will be using dry rock masonry techniques to built stone structures with no concrete or cement. Some of the techniques have been around since the Egyptians built the Pyramids. Even trails work in the United States has a long and honored tradition. The first caretakers and trail builders of Yosemite National Park were troopers of the US Calvary in the late-1800s.

Backcountry orientation used to be a one day event. The Monday of orientation week was a travel day, and Backcountry Corpsmembers would show up at Delta Center in Stockton all day and slowly meet the rest of the Backcountry Corpsmembers as they all arrived. On Tuesday morning, Backcountry Program Director Peter Lewis would give a literal orientation to the season, describing what the season would be like and explaining the rules and expectations of the Corpsmembers. Tuesday afternoon was the first day the Corpsmembers officially met their crews. Introductions were made and each Crew Supervisor, or C1, would explain the projects they would be working on over the summer, and reinforce the expectations on Backcountry Corpsmembers. Tuesday evening was generally free time, and then the crews would roll out on Wednesday morning to their new assignments.

The program has changed since I went through it in 1987. Delta Center having long been closed, the crews now meet at Placer Center. (Okay…there is a CCC Center in Stockton today, but it is not the same one from the 1980s. That’s a whole other blog post. It’s on the agenda!) Orientation lasts a week now, with every Corpsmember receiving additional training that will help them succeed in their season.

I will be at orientation for the first couple of days this week. I’ll be posting stories and pics from there, and about the process.You can expect regular updates to our new Facebook page, also called CCC: Hard Corps.

Meanwhile, here is a 12 minute video that talks about the Backcountry Trails program. The video is from 1995, but it’s the best one I’ve found that gives a balanced view of the program. It includes information on the trails work, and thoughts from some of the Corpsmembers, crew supervisors, and sponsors.


Kelly Kate Warren: Trail Worker to Cook to Thru Hiker

Today we share with you a podcast interview with a former Corpsmember who is still having an impact: Kelly Kate Warren. KK was a Backcountry Corpsmember who became a Backcounry trail crew cook. I met KK last year when she cooked for the Shasta Trinity crew. She is an awesome cook who preforms magic with the basic items found in a trail crew camp, and her enthusiasm easily makes itself felt in crew morale.

KK is taking this year off from trail crew in order to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She has already started her hike, and we wish her well.

KK has a website called The Trail Speaks that she hopes to update throughout the summer via Instagram.

KK was also interviewed recently by the Rudy Giecek of the Cascade Hiker podcast. KK talks about her walk, and her goals for her hike. Yes, she does have a goal and a theme for her hike beyond making miles and taking pictures.

Listen and find out!



Staff Profile: Penny Walker, Yountville Beginnings

It was 1979 and here I was driving into the Yountville Veterans Home in my 1968 Ford Pickup which weaved around these old, plain looking barrack-like buildings that were surrounded by beautiful mature trees and green grass.  Old guys hanging out in the doorways waving. The building I was looking for was the last one on the road and had a big wooden sign that said, “California Conservation Corps”.  I had never heard of this state agency before, since it was only a few years old.  I was there for an interview as a payroll clerk,  and it paid more than I was getting with Caltrans, where I was the secretary in a construction field office.  My finances were in ruin because I had left the State to work as a house manager with an non-profit agency who served intellectually disabled adults.  I absolutely loved that job but after a couple years of getting paid peanuts, I had to go into survival mode and procure a better paying job.  So back to the employment of the State of California and maybe this unknown agency called the CCC.

My Dad and my Uncle were both alumni from the original Civilian Conservation Corps. My Uncle was a bigwig with that agency as a Regional Director for several states.  I had seen a lot of their photos from that era and was enticed by the camps in the woods and the very healthy looking men who were working in the woods for $30.00 a month, 25 of that went to their homes, and they were given five bucks for spending money.

I didn’t know what to expect as I entered this large, plain looking building.  That all changed as I walked in and was met by a herd of young people dressed in brown and khaki uniforms.  Not all men, but women too!  “That’s cool!”, I thought.  They all ran out the door and headed towards a blue van and I made my way to the door that said “office”.   I had the interview, a tour of the program and the facility.  I saw a very healthy garden that the Corpsmembers’ tended and a huge chicken coop filled with fat looking hens.  Part of the curriculum program at that time focused on teaching sustained living.  I liked this CCC.  The whole idea went along with my thinking.    I liked the idea of working with a bunch of kids who worked out in the rural areas and raised chickens.  I was blessed to get that payroll job and ended up working for the CCC for twenty-two years.

And More

Today’s post was written by former Corpsmember Jonathan Kirchabel of Fortuna Center. Jonathan has written a more contemplative piece than a typical Corpsmember profile. Jonathan shows us what goes into the development of a Crewleader in the CCC. 



Jonathan, left. Ethan Smith, right

I don’t know how many times I sat and asked myself, “How much longer am I capable doing this?”

It didn’t happen a lot. It was most memorable during long conversations between the silence and myself. I would say absolutely nothing, and the nature would respond in the same manner. While working, spiking out on a project, and especially during my time in Yosemite, it didn’t matter where I went, this conversation would still follow.

When people ask me about my experience, I never know the right answer; only the wrong ones. As a leader in the program, I came to understand that you never want to discourage somebody from doing something just because it’s daunting or hard. You want to be real, honest, and tell people like it is, but you never want to discourage somebody. The program changed me, especially during those long conversations between nature and myself. I can remember finding joy after long tumultuous hikes during my backcountry season and while working to maintain trails around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and having conversations with the nearby birds as they sent calls between each other. You know, because I went crazy, and that’s a heavy burden to bear.

There’s a certain peace that happens after two years, after doing what I’ve done, and after seeing what I’ve seen. There were two nights in particular that truly resonated with what I intend on getting across: the night that I laid in water for hours, and the night that I didn’t sleep, while in Yosemite.



The night I laid in cold water for hours was a treacherous reminder of why you should not be lazy. On a clear evening, we went to sleep thinking that we did not need to set up any tarps for coverage during the night. We were awoken by steadily dropping rain that only increased into a small storm. Luckily, Jose had swung his tarp over us, and shielded us from most of the barrage. However, I had not cared to bring any extra possible defense against the conditions for the weekend, and as a result my sleeping bag, clothes, and body, were all drenched in water for hours and hours. Jose had been positioned as perfectly as possible, and despite needing to go to the bathroom for several hours, I resisted all urges and uncomfortability until the storm passed four hours later. I sat, shivering in my rain gear, my only dryish clothes, and attempted several times to light a fire with wet materials. Had I not temporarily stopped smoking cigarettes a month prior on my birthday, I would have found solace in those seconds of slowly decaying away with each puff while silently staring into the river beside our campsite. Yet, I only had the river as comfort, as I sat for hours more, waiting for my comrades to wake up. Cuts on my feet, still shivering, and sore from the compilation of all that had happened up until then, I still found more serenity with each step forward back to camp, weight on my shoulders and all.

Continue reading “And More”

Making Trails More Accessible

Last year, Redding Crew 22 began a three year project at Plumas-Eureka State Park to improve a trail around Madora Lake to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

Plumas-Eureka State Park is located in the northern Sierras, outside of the small town of Graeagle. A one-and-a-half mile trail circles the lake. It has always been a typical trail through the woods. It is narrow. It has rocky sections which can be treacherous to footing. Rebuilding the trail to ADA standards essentially means that when this project is finished, the trail will be wider, flatter, and smoother to allow access to people who would have been challenged to get out and see the lake on the old trail.









Last year, Crew 22 began the involved process of digging the old trail up, widening the tread, building causeway-like wall along the entire trail length, laying down a crushed rock base, covering the fill with suitable quality surface material, and tamping down to ensure a surface smooth enough to accommodate anybody who wants to get out on the trail and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.





















Plumas-Eureka State Park is hours away from Redding 22’s home base in Redding, so the crew Continue reading “Making Trails More Accessible”

Corps Programs: Good for Nature, Good for YOUth!

Today we have a guest post from CCC Crew Supervisor John Griffith. John is a former Corpsmember. Today he runs a CCC crew at the Arcata Satellite of Fortune Center. In this post, John talks about some of the benefits for young people in joining the CCC, and includes a video tutorial about how to join.

John Griffith, The Nature Nut

how-to-join-a-corps-program2Corps Programs: Good for Nature, Good for YOUth  by John Griffith

There are a lot of reasons to love the 130+ corps programs in the United States. Who doesn’t love the idea of programs that hire youth to build trails on public lands, restore wildlife habitat, and respond to a community’s natural disasters (like wildfires and floods) while helping them get a high school diploma if they need it, and then offering them thousands of dollars in college scholarships after one year of service? What a great investment in our society! It’s a way better alternative than those same young folks just hanging out at mom’s house or on the streets without any employment prospects. The idea of masses of unemployed and bored American youth doesn’t sound good to anybody. It makes us anxiously recall that ominous phrase, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” There’s already plenty of bad press…

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Corpsmember Profile: Dyana McPherson

My name Dyana McPherson, I was born and raised in San Diego County. I have always been an avid camper and hiker since I was a child. I was dissatisfied with my occupation at the time and I had friends at the La Cima fire center. I was encouraged by then Corpsmember Development Coordinator Victor Avila to join the CCC and see if I liked the work. My love of Redwood country inspired me chose the Humboldt district when I enrolled in the CCC in 1993, I ended up at the Fortuna Center as a corpsmember. At the time I wanted to attend college to go into the natural resources field. Working for the Salmon Restoration Project seemed like just the ticket. My ultimate goal even at enrolling in the CCC was to become a C-I and start a meaningful career.

After COMET I was assigned to Crew 3, Tom Merrill’s crew. I was one of four females at the entire center and only two of us were on the grade. I loved it. I learned everything I could and Tom saw potential in me and sent me to leadership training right away. I was a red hat within three months of joining. I eventually transferred to the Leggett / Ukiah center there I Interned for California Department of Fish and Game and was on Gary Burica’s crew. A position for an orange hat in Fortuna opened up and I was asked to apply. I returned to Fortuna and worked with the Corpsmember Development program (CMD) under Bill Vogel and Terry Stevens until I left in 1995. Corpsmember Development provides educational activities and training for the corpsmembers during their time in the CCC. Corpsmembers are required to attend a two week new employee orientation program called COMET. There are several requirements for obtaining the CCC scholarship at the end of your term. CMD provides these classes at night for the corpsmembers and many other educational opportunities. I really enjoyed being an orange hat for the COMET program that I decided I wanted to be a teacher and work for Corpsmember Development.



Dyana and Bud Wilbur. Bud was in the original Civilian Conservation Corps.

I took the Conservationist-I (C-I) exam and headed back to San Diego hoping to pick up a C-I position. I ran crews for three years with the CCC, working on conservation projects, Floods, Fires, Special Programs (Weatherization Energy Efficiency Retrofit Program) and COMET.


I got married in 1999 and returned to Northern California to live and work for CA Parks and Recreation. For a few years then a family member needed our help so we moved to Arizona. For eight years I lived in Kingman AZ, where I stayed home with my young children and attended Northern Arizona University’s college of Education. I enjoyed being a mom and spending time with my family. I graduated with my Bachelors of Science from NAU in Elementary Education. I still stayed in touch with my CCC roots and began a CCC Alumni Face book page. I volunteered to be the Admin and let folks know about things that go on with the current CCC and provide a place to connect former corpsmembers with their friends.

I had an opportunity to apply for a Program Coordinator position with a sister corps in Flagstaff called Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). The program was funded from the Recovery Act. I was the program coordinator Energy Conservation Corps program/ County Retrofit Program Coordinator. I had anywhere from 3-5 crews at a given time. We worked on a variety of energy efficiency projects in Northern Arizona, mostly on the Navajo Reservation. One of the more memorable projects was with the Grand Canyon National Park; it took the crew to the bottom of the Grand Canyon retrofitting a building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and restoring five structures at the North Rim. Visiting the crews working at these sites was a memorable experience.
I now live in San Diego and I work for the State of California again raising my girls. I am looking forward to visiting current CCC crews and writing about their projects and experiences.

Women in the Wilderness

This is Agnes. Agnes is one of the organizers for Women in the Wilderness.  She hails from the San Fernando and Simi Valleys, however, the mountains of CA have been her favorite home.  She spends her winters in Mammoth Lakes, CA and summers have been spent mostly in Kings Canyon National Park, but also the Inyo NF, the Stanislaus NF, and all over CA travelling between CCC Backcountry Crews.  With an environmental studies degree and seeking something more than planning, she stumbled upon the Backcountry Program. The 22 weeks spent that first summer in the Sierra launched her outdoor career working with young people building trails and community.  Agnes has hiked over 10,000 miles all over the backcountry, she spent 5 seasons with the National Park Service and 8 seasons with the Backcountry Program as a Supervisor and Program Manager.  Following her passion, she is a founding member of the Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps, a new nonprofit youth development and leadership program.  Here she is with her co-lead Chelsea and our 6 WiW participants, Jasmin, Kimberly, Liza, Pati, Alexis, and Paola near Mist Falls in Kings Canyon National Park.

Here are a few excerpts from her trip journal.

In pairs they climb, up the steep rocky hillside to the spine that is Glen Pass, a knife edge.  Again, the view of Rae Lakes, as only Wallace can describe “Do not come and roam here unless you are willing to be enslaved by its charms. Its beauty and peace and harmony will entrance you. Once it has you in its power, it will never release you the rest of your days”.  

Hiking can be an experience so new and more mental than anything else, especially with a 60+ pound pack.  Once step at a time, it is only you and the mountain and your mind and your body.   The last approach to the pass is the toughest of course.  The air gets thinner, the trail is all rock.  But they get closer and closer to the goal, one step at a time and each of them are rewarded.  Seeing the views on the other side that you only get to witness if you do the work.  Dropping that pack and catching your breath before the views take it away.

I am inspired.  I hope they understand that I am learning while teaching them.    

We give the women an opportunity to interview Chelsea and I.  Is this is what you envisioned for the WiW? Why is it so important to have women of color out here in the backcountry? After having this idea for so many years, how does it feel to finally be leading an all women all first time backpacking trip? What has been the biggest challenge with this trip, will you ever feel like saying I don’t want this anymore or I want to go back home, what is most important? My answers: That I want to be a better person, that this is my home, that it feels amazing to fulfill a long time dream to lead a women’s trip, and it is so important because the wilderness belongs to all of us.  

Down, down, down the canyon, more into the trees, pines, firs, junipers, cedars.  Upper Paradise, we are close but still not yet.  Everyday the hikes have been tough.  We all start out strong, move quick and keep pace.  As the day goes, the pace slows.  I keep ahead, to keep them going.  I can feel the tiredness as we still have miles to go. We have to keep hiking.  It is nearly 5pm at this point.  They are tired, dusty, and blistered.  Finally signs of camp, some familiar green tents.  They are waiting, dinner is ready, and many smiling faces.  I am home.  Every CCC backcountry camp feels like this, an old friend, a warm smile and friendly face.  I am the most excited, this is my comfort zone.  

The ladies of the CCC backcountry crew enjoy mentoring the ladies of the group.  They can pass on the knowledge they have learned and teach the lessons learned.  Work is getting done on the trail.

At night around the campfire, in a way, we attempt to solve the world’s problems.  Everyone is divided up into groups and each group has a question.   There are talks about diversity and inclusion in National Parks, is this an issue and why is it even important?  How do we make the wilderness more accessible to marginalized communities? What are the barriers to access wilderness areas?  In terms of CCC recruitment and training, how do we retain/recruit more women and help them be more successful in the CCC?  Round and round we went, in thoughtful and insightful ways.  I just observed the crew, the ladies, our guests, the responses.  The real struggles in some of the answers to these questions. The opportunity that a group of people gathered around a fire can make a difference in the world.  That even the act that has become so second nature to us, sitting around a campfire, is an act as Chelsea pointed out that not many get to experience, it itself is a privileged activity.  

The work is good and production is up.  All in all, I believe the women helped to build 10 retainer bars and 24 square feet of multi-tier wall.   They are confident, happy, accomplished. I like to think that some of it was a natural high, of accomplishment, of knowing they did it and they would be going back home the next day leaving the mountains, for now.   I will miss my Kings friends. I will miss the crew.  I will miss all the ladies on the trip.  They listen intently to the plan for the hike out, to have everything packed, to be ready and they are.  I can hear giggles from their tents late into the night.

I have a message for both the crew and the ladies.  I am inspired and honored to have spent good time with everyone, I give thanks for the hospitality and sharing, and congrats, however the season is not yet over.  There is still work to do on and off the grade, there is community work that continues after the season.  That I have found nothing more real than life on a backcountry crew and that one crew at a time is what I believe does change the world.  That everyone here is a steward of the backcountry and we can all advocate for others in the wilderness. Finally, that the effort to create a healthy community as they have here should never stop.  

The next morning, I am finally heading towards Mammoth and home.  My truck is still fully loaded with gear and memories.  It is not until that moment, when I am alone, that the buzz of the accomplishment of the trip really hits me.  



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