WINTER PARK — It’s 9 a.m. on a soggy Thursday, and a group of young trail workers are just emerging from camp, clad in white hard hats, sturdy boots and gray T-shirts with the “Rocky Mountain Youth Corps” logo.
The crew sets to work, winding up a hill just west of Winter Park, behind the old blue lift that once served the Idlewild ski area.
Part of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ Conservation Corps program, the eight-person youth crew is working to develop a 2.75-mile trail that connects to Corona Pass. They’re an hour behind schedule, delayed by a drizzle that started around 4 a.m. on July 26. The clouds hang low and thick, and the air remains damp, but at least the rain has stopped.
“I’m psyched, we’ve got no puddles so far,” said Carlyn Lawatsch, a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew leader, while inspecting the new trail.
Lawastch sounded relieved. She explained the majority of the crew had no prior trail work experience. Rain showers provide a good test of a trail’s durability.
“You don’t always know if it’s going to (hold up) or not,” she said. “It’s nice to see that it did.”
The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Conservation Corps provides youth with employment, educational opportunities and leadership skills while aiding communities with outdoor projects. For an entire month — morning, noon and night — the group works together, sleeps together and eats together while providing outdoor community services like trail development and pine beetle mitigation.
“It makes it a lot easier if you’ve got a great group, which we definitely do this time,” Lawatsch said, who has worked with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps for two years.
The crew members receive a weekly stipend of about $280. Their ages range from 17 to 21, and they come from all over Colorado, including Centennial, Colorado Springs, Steamboat, Fort Lupton and Penrose.
“It’s good money, and I feel good about what I’m doing,” said Zane Wolf, 17, from Fort Collins. “Unlike flipping burgers, it’s satisfying.”
The Town of Winter Park retained the Youth Corps through a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, a public committee that uses state lottery funds to create and enhance parks, trails, open space and wildlife projects. According to Town Planner James Shockey, the program awarded Winter Park a grant for three week’s worth of labor, or about $19,000 in total costs.
“To bring in this much manpower for a trail like this, you can really get it built,” Shockey said. “And anytime we can hire youth, give the youth jobs, it’s a great thing.”
The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps has worked to develop the trail – which is still unnamed – since Monday, July 22. The crew wraps up work on Friday, Aug. 9. The trail runs through private land, but the property owners provided the town a public easement. To date, Great Outdoors Colorado has granted about $773 million in lottery proceeds for projects throughout the state. In 2011, the organization authorized $500,000 in funds for local government to hire youth conservation corps.
“It’s a great program, and it’s great to give funding to the Youth Corps,” Shockey said. “We definitely plan taking advantage of it next year, we still have more trail up here to build.”
Reporter Leia Larsen can be reached at (970) 887-2224 ext. 19603.
“To bring in this much manpower for a trail like this, you can really get it built.”
Winter Park town planner