AmeriCorps NCCC’s introduction to the outdoor life

By Ben Echt and Roger Sweet

Coming from backgrounds of all shapes and sizes, it’s safe to say we were mostly prepared for being unprepared. Our 11-person team, Gold 4 of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, set off on an amazing adventure, not through space and time, but to the Pacific Crest Trail. Most of us had never seen a mountain except on our phones or through the car window. It was time to step out and step up.

Dave Fleischman demonstrating proper drainage design.

Dave Fleischman demonstrating proper drainage design. Photo by Connor Swift.

After spending a month mucking and gutting flood-damaged homes in Louisiana, we were eager to meet our next sponsor: Connor Swift, Technical Advisor with PCTA. It’s safe to say he is incredible. This guy has all the passion that we came to learn about and the excitement that not many — however old he is — have at his age. Plus, on a personal note, his beard is our Guru. The thing is proportionally epic to the man who wears it. He lives and breathes the outdoors, lives and promotes a Leave No Trace lifestyle, even bagging it up after he goes “#2” and taking it with him out of the wilderness.  Our team was fortunate that Conner trained us in Leave No Trace ethics.  We covered all seven principles, which include Plan Ahead and Prepare, Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Respect Wildlife, Dispose of Waste Properly, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Be Considerate of other Visitors, and Leave What you Find. Connor explained this whole new set of guidelines that most of us had never even thought about before.

AmeriCorps NCCC crew re-benching a section of damaged trail. Photo by Connor Swift.

AmeriCorps NCCC crew re-benching a section of damaged trail. Photo by Connor Swift.

Our first couple of days with Connor and PCTA were at Whitewater Preserve in Southern California. The setting was beautiful and the staff was great, but the weather was less than ideal. It rained, it dropped almost to 35 degrees at night and some of our tents weren’t quite up for that, but it didn’t matter. We came to do a job and the passion of our sponsor and the magic of his beard inspired us.

We rallied the forces like a Lord of the Rings movie and trudged to our own personal Mordor. It was so much fun! We used our tools to craft the trails that so many people take solace in. Connor and his comrade Dave (two time PCT thru-hiker and volunteer with PCTA’s Trail Gorillas) explained the importance of breaking rocks and digging drain dips (not too deep!). They explained it’s all for the conservation of nature. We learned that maintaining trails is about protecting natural resources while still providing an opportunity for people to enjoy the natural space. It’s an interesting conundrum: we are impacting the natural landscape in order to protect it from being impacted by people visiting these natural areas. Weird, right? We hadn’t thought of it that way before.

AmeriCorps NCCC crew enjoying a gorgeous day on the trail. Photo  by Connor Swift.

AmeriCorps NCCC crew enjoying a gorgeous day on the trail. Photo by Connor Swift.

So here we are, Gold 4, maintaining a path that so many before us have used and will continue to use for years. And we’ve come to learn that trail work is the best way for us to protect the resource for future generations. Therein lies the true beauty of it: you see, we create and maintain trails for you to traverse…but it’s to protect the landscapes through which they pass. Preservation. That’s the real prize. It’s going to be a fun two months here in Southern California, filled with action, adventure and instant coffee. Keep you posted.

Peace. Love. Dirt.

Starting the day with smiles! Photo by Connor Swift.

Starting the day with smiles! Photo by Connor Swift.

AmeriCorps NCCC is a national service program with a mission to strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service. Learn more online.

A note from Anitra Kass, PCTA’s Southern California Regional Representative:  Whitewater Preserve is one of my favorite places adjacent to the PCT. It really is a hidden gem. Not only is the setting gorgeous, but they have drinking water, shade and a wading pond. But the best thing about the Preserve and the people who manage it are their ongoing commitment to the PCT and their partnership with the PCTA. Over the years, they’ve hosted our trail crews, Environmental Charter School projects, meetings and some of our trainings.  They are such amazing partners they actually won a PCTA Partnership Award in 2015. Thank you Whitewater Preserve for all you do!