RMYC Crews Wrap-up on Mt. Elbert
Hikers climbing Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest 14er at 14,439 feet and the second highest peak in the contiguous U.S., can thank Rocky Mountain Youth Corps for making their stairway to the sky a little easier.
A longtime partner of the nonprofit Colorado 14ers Initiative (CFI), RMYC crews wrapped up this season’s trailwork on the peak in early September, capping off a pinnacle project coveted by highly trained RMYC crews.
“It’s a pretty extreme experience,” says RMYC programs manager Ryan Banks. “The work days are intense and you have to be off the mountain by 2 p.m. when the storms roll in. But people want to work there.”
This summer, RMYC crews worked on the North Elbert trail before turning their attention to the Black Cloud trail, a 5.5-mile, one-way alternative route to the more heavily used North and South trails, with an elevation gain of 4,713 feet.
CFI was formed in 1994 as a partnership of nonprofits, private donors and public agencies. to preserve and protect the natural integrity of Colorado’s fourteeners. Mt. Elbert has long been a recipient of its trailwork attention, with its northeast route the first 14er-specific route it ever worked on. This season, four CFI leaders worked with a nine-person RMYC crew at two sites on the mountain. Near timberline the project utilized timber features to reconstruct 2,500 linear feet of trail, including felling 27 trees, and stripping 125 logs to use as steps and them to the project site. Higher up on the peak, at around 13,500 feet, RMYC crews also built 900 feet of new bypass trail, hauling rocks to construct walls, staircases and other features. The location of the quarry site entailed using a griphoist to haul the stones—some upwards of 500 lbs.—uphill 200 vertical feet and then 300 feet laterally to the project site. In all, the team installed 41 cribbed rock steps and built 1,380 square feet of retaining walls at the upper site. Over the course of an eight-day hitch, or typical work session, a crew would work two days on the lower site and six days on the upper.
RMYC is a longtime partner of ours, and one of our most reliable,” says CFI field programs director Ben Hanus. “They’re an integral part of making our projects happen—particularly, this year up on Elbert on the North and Black Cloud trails. They’re always willing to do what needs to be done to get a project finished.” The new re-routes are expected to be completed this year on the North Elbert trail, he adds, with RMYC crews returning next year for one more season on the Black Cloud trail.
He adds that the work isn’t for the faint of heart. “It’s a really strenuous place to work,” he says, adding that the crews put in 10-hour days and have to hike 3,000 vertical feet each morning from base camp up to 13,500 feet just to begin their “work.” But they’re extremely grateful for the RMYC’s help, and the training they give their crews beforehand.
“The crews we get from RMYC are way better than volunteers,” says Hanus. “They come with training as well as crew leaders and assistant crew leaders. Next to my staff, which has a minimum three years’ experience, RMYC crews are the next best qualified to do this type of work.”
He’s also glad for the experience it gives the kids. “It gives us an opportunity to introduce trailwork to people who otherwise might not get to see it,” Hanus says. “Our partnership with RMYC allows us to help create more future stewards of 14ers.”
And working on Mt. Elbert, the state’s highest peak and one of its most popular to climb, is also considered a crown jewel for RMYC crews to work on. “It has a cult-like vibe,” says RMYC’s Banks. “We’ve had returning crew members request to go up there and become crew leaders. For some reason, people really want to work up there. It’s something about the kind of work we do; it’s an iconic peak and you’re building something on it that will be there for another hundred years.”
How it stared
RMYC 30th Anniversary Timeline
For 30 years, Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based Rocky Mountain Youth Corps has engaged young people in the outdoors, empowering them to use their strengths and potential to lead healthy, productive lives. As the leader in the Northcentral Rockies in providing diverse opportunities for young people to participate in outdoor-based service and education, its participants build resiliency in themselves, communities and ecosystems through teamwork, service and experiential education. Collaborating with project, program and funding partners, RMYC engages the strength and potential of youth and young adults to make a difference in themselves and their community through meaningful service opportunities, employment skills, and experiential education.
At the group’s helm since its inception has been founder and CEO Gretchen Van De Carr, who is retiring In February 2024 after three decades of selfless service. Want to see what all she and her high-level team has accomplished since the original Roe v. Wade decision, signing of the Paris Peace Accords and Bette Milder won the Grammy? Behold a 30th Anniversary Timeline of RMYC’s accomplishments in the trenches engaging youth in outdoor-based service and education.
June 1993: Gretchen Van De Carr founds Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, using city’s $3,000 Teen Center summer budget for pilot program emulating Northwest Youth Corps; employs first official crew on Diamond Peak in Northwest Colorado.
August 1993: Community Youth Crews (ages 16-18) complete first season of projects on BLM and USFS lands during three two-week, paid sessions, engaging 24 youth.
June 1994: Launches first Urban Youth Crews for ages 14-15 years.
June 1996: Expands capacity to nine crews totaling 78 crew members.
March 1997: Assists in launching Colorado Youth Corps Association.
January 1999: Community Youth Crew program leaves city umbrella to become a stand-alone nonprofit organization (Urban Youth Crew remains with the city). First RMYC Board of Directors established.
June 1999: Launches first Colorado Backcountry Corps crew for ages 18-25 years.
October 1999: RMYC earns 501-C3 nonprofit status.
July 2000: Receives first AmeriCorps grant; creates Yampa Valley Science School to serve local sixth graders and high school students—five-day, three-night pilot program at Columbine Cabins; launches School-Based Mentoring program.
June 2001: Creates first Chainsaw Crews.
September 2002: Celebrates 10th anniversary at Carpenter Ranch. Yampa Valley Science School moves to Perry-Mansfield.
July 2004: Launches Ute Conservation Corps.
January 2006: School-Based Mentoring program moves to Partners in Routt County.
February 2008: Establishes endowment fund at Yampa Valley Community Foundation with $20K and a goal of $3.75M by 2025.
March 2008: Develops first Strategic Plan 2008-2013.
May 2008: Launches Energy Crews to assess efficiency of low-income home weatherization efforts.
August 2008: Hosts first all-crew Rendezvous on Rabbit Ears Pass.
March 2010: Creates Service Learning Crew (SLC), providing education/experience in citizenship, volunteerism, community service, and self-development to youth ages 11-13 in two-week sessions.
June 2010: Launches first Historic Preservation Crews, rebuilding More Barn’s Yock Homestead.
August 2010: Purchases 991 Captain Jack Drive; begins renovation for new headquarters.
September 2010: All Crew Rendezvous moves to Fetcher Barn at Steamboat Lake.
February 2011: Moves into new headquarters at 991 Captain Jack Drive.
September 2013: Celebrates 20th anniversary.
January 2015: RMYC takes over operations of the Urban Youth Crew from the City of Steamboat Springs.
June 2015: Launches Natural Resource Internship Program (NRI), engages 16- to 30-year-olds in work experiences within natural resources management agencies/nonprofits to advance careers in natural resources.
November 2015: Creates 2015-2020 Strategic Plan.
June 2016: Expands Youth Crews to four more counties: Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, and Lake.
June 2017: Expands Youth Crews to two more counties: Summit, Rio Blanco.
August 2017: Places 4,000th member on crew.
June 2018: Expands Youth Crews to include Moffat County.
September 2018: Celebrates 25th anniversary at Captain Jack headquarters (we love a party!).
June 2019: Expands Youth Crews to two more counties: Jackson and Grand. Now serving all 10 Northwest Colorado rural counties!
August 2021: Serves record-breaking 1,006 participants in one year; creates 2021-2025 Strategic Plan.
September 2023: Celebrates 30th anniversary with milestone of engaging over 13,000 participants; grows to 15 staff members and $7 million operating budget.
February 2024: Founder and CEO Gretchen Van De Carr retires, and thus begins the next 30 years of impact!
How RMYC Got Its Start
In the Beginning…
With Rocky Mountain Youth Corps CEO Gretchen Van De Carr retiring in February 2024 after a remarkable 30-year career as the group’s founder and leader, we couldn’t help but take a walk down memory lane to see how RMYC all began.
There is no one else to credit for RMYC’s beginnings. It was Van De Carr who was both the impetus and engine behind the creation of RMYC’s award-winning tradition of engaging youth in the outdoors while linking community, education and environment through service, which is now housed on a 3.4-acre campus in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and has served more than 13,000 youth in its three decades of service.
But it had a humble start. Graduating from Clarkson University in 1985 with a degree in Civil Engineering and earning a Masters in Environmental Engineering from the University of New Hampshire in 1988, Van De Carr spent the summer of 1986 in then traveled to Alaska for seasonal work, marking the beginnings of a career path that would take her to the helm of RMYC. “That’s when my life’s destiny changed,” she says. “Bald eagles, dolphins, the wide-open ocean and coastline of the Alaskan panhandle triggered an intense interest of the outdoors in me. I think that and my college years were the necessary building blocks that led my drive and calling to start RMYC.”
Crediting her advisor and mentor, Nancy Kinner, for instilling the ethos that “I can do anything, no matter how impossible it seems, if I only trust myself,” in November 1988, with “a backpack full of clothes and camping gear and 800 bucks,” she road tripped to Bend, Ore., working as a waitress bartender and childcare provider. Since neither of those jobs satisfied That’s where she discovered her passion for working with youth in the outdoors, she continued her search, which soon led to a position as a crew leader for the Northwest Youth Corps out of Eugene, Ore., unknowingly launching her lifetime career as a “youth corps junkyaddictjunkiedirtbag.” for life.
There, while facilitating an educational lesson about the negative effects of clear-cut logging, an 18- year-old crew member, also a member of the National Guard, fled from the group only to later return, distressed. “He taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life,” says Van De Carr. “He said that while he could understand the devastation logging was causing, he was from a fifth-generation logging family and that’s all his family knew. If it weren’t for logging, his sister wouldn’t be able to attend college and there wouldn’t be food on their table. I had figured loggers were selfish and stupid, only careding about themselves, but he made me realize that it was me who was selfish and uneducated.”
At the end of the summer, she joined the Multnomah Education Service District’s Outdoor School as a water specialist, constructing experiential curriculum for sixth graders from inner-city Portland.
In 1990, she moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., at first working as a substitute pre-school teacher and school bus driver before taking a job in 1992 as to create the new Teen Center director for the city. “It wasn’t a large wage, but I was super excited at the prospect of creating a teen center from scratch,” she says of a role that eventually morphed into a full-time position. “That first summer I had a lot of difficulty getting teens to go camping and hiking with an adult, so the next summer I wondered why a bunch of teens would want to go camping with someone like me, but we worked hard to attract local teens to participate in camping, hiking, and rafting trips.” The following summer, she used the position’smy $3,000 budget to operate a pilot program emulating the format of the Northwest Youth Corps. That summer, the first RMYC crew was employed.”
As RMYC progressed, Van De Carr quickly began creating cooperative agreements with BLM and U.S. Forest Service officials to develop summer projects for its hardworking crews. Thirty years later, RMYC participants have completed such public land projects as trail improvement and establishment, fire mitigation and wildland firefighting, small construction historic preservation projects and more throughout Northwest Colorado.
But it’s the life skills its members learn gain that’s more significant. “The development of a young person is just equally, if not more, as important as than these environmental conservation projects we work on,” says Van De Carr. “Kids on our crewsCrew members overcome adversity, learn cooperative skills, develop interpersonal relationships, and come to appreciate the importance of task completion and teamwork.”
Today, having served more than 13,000 youth in its three decades of service under Van De Carr’s leadership, RMYC offers a variety of programs for various ages, from students youth ages 11-18 who working for two to four weeks at a time, to its Conservation Corps, targeting youth 18-25 and older for everything from trail work, environmental restoration and historic preservation to wildlife habitat management, invasive species management and wildland fire mitigation. The newest program, Natural Resource Interns, provides young adults with a boost to succeed in the conservation career world. Its Yampa Valley Science School also allows sixth-graders to expand their environmental awareness academically.
And it all stems from Van De Carr taking a tangent from her own academia to pursue helping empowering youth and sustaining the outdoor environment we all love. “I realize and appreciate my fortune at having been able to spend my career with such passion, It’s been a great, great career and ride,and one I wouldn’t change for anything,” she says. “And it’s in great hands and shape moving forward.can’t imagine a better life,” she says. “I am excited at the opportunity that this transition in leadership will bring to the organization.”
30 Days for 30 Years
RMYC Launches “30 Days for 30 Years” Social Campaign to Ring in 30th Anniversary
There’ll soon be plenty more accolades rolling in for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps as the nonprofit rolls out its “30 Days for 30 Years” social campaign in honor of its 30th anniversary. Spearheaded by programs manager Ryan Banks, the story-telling campaign calls upon alumni to submit a short video touching upon how RMYC impacted their life, with the organization posting the best submissions every day of September, on up to its “A Toast to Trails & Tales”
30th Anniversary Celebration Saturday, Sept. 30, at the heralded Steamboat Grand Hotel.
“Each of the 30 days of September will feature a different story of an RMYC crew member, intern, science school student, project partner, program partner, staff member, or board member,” says Banks. “To that end, we’re reaching out to alumni crew members and interns to gather their stories of how RMYC affected their lives.”
Some of the videos, he adds, will also be featured at the Sept. 30 celebration event.
RMYC is engaging its alumni to participate by reaching out to them through social media, email and other avenues to encourage them to send in their stories. RMYC will then edit these testimonials down to one minute in length (though originals can be as long as 3 minutes. Video content ideas include alumni telling viewers how RMYC impacted their life, project partners discussing how partnering with RMYC made a difference, and experiences submitters had with RMYC that evoked passion, love or unity.
Video submissions should be uploaded to YouTube or saved to a personal DropBox or Google Drive, with the link sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For more information, visit https://www.rockymountainyouthcorps.org/alumni-testimonials .
“It should be a great way to help capture the collective spirit or our alumni and partners from the past 30 years as we look ahead to the next three decades,” says RMYC executive director Gretchen Van De Carr. “We’re looking forward to using it as a way to reconnect with all our past alumni and other associates while spreading the word about our valuable tradition of engaging youth in the outdoors while linking community, education and environment through service.”
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps Ramps Up Fire Mitigation Efforts
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO (July 14, 2023) – With the 3,000-acre Spring Creek Fire near Parachute ushering in Colorado’s 2023 wildfire season, Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is hot on the trail with its fire mitigation efforts, tripling its chainsaw crews this year to seven, including its first all-female adult fire mitigation crew. Its enhanced fire-mitigation program continues its tradition of engaging youth in the outdoors while linking community, education and environment through service.
In addition to focusing on fire mitigation, the crews also work on recovery efforts throughout the region, helping restore habitat in such areas as the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires. Their mitigation efforts also include six interns working in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest in the Yampa and Walden ranger districts supplementing wildland fire staff. One goal of this agreement is in facilitating workforce diversity and employment opportunities within the Forest Service.
“These crews help mitigate fire risk, but their work also does a lot more, from enhancing wildlife habitat to combatting invasive species,” says RMYC’s Chief Program Officer Ryan Banks. “And our fire-specific internship program, which started this year, is a great pathway for getting hired with federal agencies afterward and making a career in fire mitigation.”
Working with a fleet of Stihl chainsaws, the mitigation teams undergo rigorous classroom and field training, with certification assistance from the Forest Service, before hitting the forests, where they clear everything from beetle kill to downfall and everything in between. With today’s fires regularly bigger than those the past, the RMYC crews are also in high demand as other Colorado-based firefighting teams often get sent elsewhere. “That often leaves a void here to complete local mitigation projects,” adds Banks. “We’ve been inundated with project proposals, from everyone from municipalities to the private sector. We’ve tripled our crews, but still have to say no to a lot of people; we’re just too busy.”
The forest service is grateful for the help. “We’re short-staffed right now so having the extra capacity RMYC gives us helps our efforts tremendously,” says Chris Green, assistant fire management officer for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. “And their program has grown substantially—my position, in fact, was created to help facilitate the amount of work RMYC is able to do.” Green adds that the crews are given a broad range of jobs, from re-orienting fuel to the ground to falling “low-complexity trees,” habitat restoration and more. At a recent project in Wyoming, crews worked on pinon juniper wildland mitigation to create a buffer with urban interface units, decreasing the risk for spot fires. “We try to get them as much experience as we can and a broad perspective, which helps if they want to continue with a career in the forest service or other federal agencies,” Green adds.
Based in a 4,300-square-foot headquarters in Steamboat Springs, CO, RMYC has served more than 12,000 youth in its 30 years of service through its youth corps programs. Its crews perform such services as invasive species removal; habitat enhancement; building and maintaining hiking, biking and equestrian trails (including those on Colorado 14ers and along 250 miles of the Continental Divide Trail); felling and removing beetle kill hazard trees on public and private lands to reduce wildfire risk; and helping fight fires on BLM and USFS land.
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps engages the strength and potential of youth and young adults to make a difference in themselves and their community through meaningful service opportunities, educational experiences, and group recreational activities. RMYC strives to meet the needs of the communities of northwest Colorado by offering a variety of programs and services for youth ages 11-30 years old. Info: www.RockyMountainYouthCorps.org.
Women's Fire Cre
RMYC Debuts First-ever All-women’s Fire Mitigation Crew
Who says fire mitigation is man’s work? Certainly not Steamboat’s Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC), which debuts its first-ever, all-women fire mitigation crew this summer.
Led by crew leader Taylor Roe, 23, who led a youth trail crew last summer and is fresh off a winter stint leading a women’s fire crew in South Carolina for the Student Conservation Association, the crew includes Addy Jones, 20; Nyelli Lara-Guiterrez, 23; Zoey Norwalk, 19; Soraia Bohner, 18; Grace Miller 21; Emma Griffith, 19; KT Jenkinson, 21; and assistant crew leader Davis Turner, 23. Together, they’ll work 10 weeks in the field throughout Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, including the Thunder Basin Grassland in Wyoming.
“It’s a great crew, we’re all really close,” says Roe, originally from southern California. “It’s a bunch of amazing women and everyone gets along really well.”
The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is grateful for the help, no matter the gender.
“It’s super unique to have such a team,” says Chris Green, assistant fire management officer for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, fresh from the field cutting with the team in Fox Park, Wyo. “It’s a pretty male-dominated profession, so whenever we can help get an opportunity to increase diversity it’s pretty special.”
As for the workload, he adds, there’s no favoritism. “They’re all out there doing the same job, which can be pretty hard at times,” he says, adding that all fire mitigation crews undergo rigorous training before being turned loose in the field. “All seven of this year’s RMYC fire mitigation crews, including the women’s crew, has progressed way better than I would have projected this early on in the season. The women’s crew is no different from any other crew. They’re doing a lot of the work we don’t have the capacity to handle.”
Despite the workload, Roe says their camaraderie couldn’t be any better. “There’s a special dynamic when it’s all women, we feel really comfortable around each other,” says Roe. “It’s really empowering. It’s nice to be around other women and feel supported while you’re learning something new. It’s a super bad-ass team. We’re a saw crew just like anyone else, but even better.”
RMYC program manager Ashley Roscoe says the word got out early on the team and that applicants came flooding in. “We had quite a bit of interest in it,” she says. “We had way more applicants than we could fill.” As for any potential discrimination in such a male-dominated profession, she adds some of it comes with the territory, it seems, but that the women shrug it off and get to work. “They’ve faced a little discrimination in the field from other fire workers, but it just fuels their fire to work even harder,” she says. “And unlike being in a mixed crew, it’s almost even a better learning environment because they all have each other to lean on.”
This bonding has paid off in the field, where conditions can test the mettle of even veteran crew members. “We’ve had some really interesting weather to deal with this year,” says Roe, adding one night the crew got completely flooded out of their camp, with more than four inches of standing water in their tents, with everyone having to squish into the RMYC van for the night. “It was a crazy thunder and hailstorm outside of Osage, Wyoming. Locals call it O’Soggy. Everyone was pretty soggy in the morning, but it was fun because we were all in it together.”
Sidebar: RMYC’s Ladies Youth Crew
The RMYC’s all-women fire mitigation crew joins the organization’s new Ladies Youth Crew this summer, allowing women-identifying youth to learn how to work in conservation with the support of like-minded women. Among other projects, the Ladies Youth Crew conducted trail work on Frisco, Colo.’s Peninsula Recreation Area (PRA) this summer, jointly managed by the Town of Frisco, the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Water and at 807 acres the largest municipally owned recreational feature in Summit County. Trail improvements performed by the crew included a 1,500-foot extension of the Perimeter Trail near the Nordic Center as well as building the 750-foot hiking-only Little Lottie trail. Learning “Leave No Trace” principles, team building, and leadership and communications skills, the crew also partook in daily educational sessions called Something Educational Every Day (SEED), teaching members how their projects impact nature and human communities, as well as how to meal plan, set camp, identify personal and professional strengths, career opportunities and more. With preference given to Colorado teens, the women’s youth crew members range in ages from 14-18, working 32 hours per week during the paid program. On the weekends, the crew took on various adventures locally.
About Rocky Mountain Youth Corps
RMYC is one of the many corps in The Corps Network and is one of eight accredited corps with the Colorado Youth Corps Association. Established in 1993 by the City of Steamboat Springs, RMYC was created to fill the community demand for more youth employment, education, and recreational opportunities. RMYC engages teens and young adults, ages 11-30 years of age, in the outdoors by providing programs to inspire individuals to use their strengths and potential to lead healthy and productive lives. RMYC teaches responsibility for self, community, and the environment through teamwork, meaningful service opportunities, educational experiences, and employment. RMYC’s programs focus on supporting youth success, a sustainable environment, and providing experiences to over 500 youth annually.