by Jacob Chandler, ATC Conservation & Communications Intern
Conservation Corps, Integral to the A.T.
A brief history: From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) provided an opportunity for unemployed young men to gain meaningful work experience in a time when the morale of the country was at an all-time low. The Great Depression was in full swing, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” delivered the efforts of the CCC to projects like forest restoration and dam construction. The CCC was a large part of the foundation of many different landmarks across the country, including those along the Appalachian Trail.
Conservation Corps today are providing similar work experiences and purpose for the current youth of America. These young adults are receiving learning opportunities and a paycheck while applying conservation principles to the benefit of the Appalachian Trail, gaining hands on job experience, and hopefully building fond memories of their time caring for this one-of-a-kind natural resource.
Now: In 2016, the Southeast Conservation Corp (SECC) partnered with ATC’s Resource Management Coordinator, Matt Drury, to help restore the globally endangered grassy balds on the Roan Massif. The SECC operates throughout the southeast to meet the needs of the communities, parks, forests and state public lands, while promoting environmental stewardship through hard work and dedication. This current day conservation corps provided two 8-person crews that spent 8-day “hitches” primarily running brush cutters for 10 hours each day, while camping on site. This work was funded by the US Forest Service and was managed by ATC in partnership with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.
Ultimately, amidst the dodging of multiple thunderstorms, the crews treated 18 acres of critical habitat through the removal of encroaching Canada blackberry, thus providing habitat for plants like the imperiled Gray’s Lily. Members of the Appalachian Conservation Corp were also able to spend time clearing 7.5 acres on Jane Bald and Grassy Ridge, thanks to funding provided by APPA (the National Park Service office of the A.T.).
Managing these unique environments, isolated at the peaks of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in the south, helps to promote vital habitat for a host of rare, threatened, and endangered species. Many of these species have called the Highlands of Roan home since the last ice age. Dually, the expertise and extensive resources provided by these conservation corps allows for a high volume of rapid work to occur while continuing to provide A.T. hikers with iconic views.
In 2018, ATC received a grant from the National Park Service to fund another SECC crew for an 8-day hitch on Snowbird Mountain, just north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The crew removed an encroachment of woody tree species at the peak of Snowbird. Thunderstorms were luckily not as prevalent during this project; rattlesnakes and bald-faced hornets were, however. Similar to the crews on the Roan Massif, thanks to the length of their project duration and the many hands available, 4.3 acres of Snowbird’s peak were managed safely. This natural turn of events not only led to the preservation of Snowbird’s amazing views, but it also improved wildlife habitat for the critically imperiled Golden-winged Warbler, which has had a 98% decline in the Southern Appalachians since the 1960’s.
In Massachusetts, AmeriCorps members were recruited by Dan Hale, ATC’s Natural Resource and Land Stewardship Manager, to work with the Berkshire Appalachian Trail Club clearing out the corridor boundaries surrounding the Appalachian Trail. This land is important to maintain as it provides a buffer to the Trail, and it contains connecting trails that provide nearby scenic views. The group of 6 members arrived in the fall, and spent a month working along the Trail. During that month they were gaining new skills in land management while also practicing a variety of other soft skills, such as leadership and management of group dynamics.
This experience not only immediately benefited the lands surrounding the A.T. but it also exposes corps members to the possibility of future careers in outdoor management– a career choice that might not have even crossed their mind without this experience. No matter their future career choice however, their time spent on the Trail has provided them with the opportunity to grow a variety of transferable skills.
Furthermore, for the past 9-10 years the “Greenagers”, a non-profit group located next to the Appalachian Trail in South Egremont Ma. at the April Hill Conservation Center, have been working with A.T. maintainers on a variety of projects. Greenagers engage teenagers in environmental work such as, conservation, sustainable farming, and natural resource management. Ultimately providing young adults an opportunity to explore their interest in environmental work, and allowances for influential mentors to help guide them along the way. It also provides them the opportunity to understand the differences and collaborative initiatives between non-profits, businesses, and organizations.
A glance at the future: Partnering with different conservation corps allows for the amplification of current volunteer efforts, while simultaneously exposing the next generation of environmental stewards to: new skills, career paths, and, importantly, fond A.T. memories. Therefore these collaborations not only support current conservation efforts, but also efforts in years to come; igniting the future of tomorrow, today.