Written by Katri Gurney, Director of Trails and Access at Squam Lakes Association
In early 2020, I was exploring different methods for tackling two trail-building projects at the Squam Lakes Association (SLA). The proposed trails included a one-mile hiking trail – to alleviate congestion on adjacent trails – and a three-mile mountain biking trail, which will be the first mountain bike trail in the Squam Watershed. We estimated that it would take over 2,500 hours of work to complete these trails.
Although we had spoken with partners and community members about these trails for years, we lacked the capacity to break ground. The SLA’s Executive Director suggested I look into the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program. It seemed daunting to supervise an 8 to 12 member crew of young adults with varying experience levels working on trails and the woods for two months, but I pressed forward. Hosting an NCCC crew looked like a wonderful opportunity to accomplish these large projects while also providing young professionals with hands-on experience in the environmental conservation field.
The first step of the application process was a concept form. The concept form covered the values and purpose of the project, in addition to basic information about the SLA. After the concept form was reviewed by the NCCC, we were invited to complete the project application. The content from the concept form translated directly over to the application. Detailed instructions were included for both the concept form and the application, which made the application expectations clear and easy to follow. Additionally, NCCC’s Assistant Program Director for the North-Central Region, Alana Svensen Hults, was always happy to assist via email or zoom.
The most time-consuming components of the application were logistical, including drafts of a training schedule, supervision plan, daily work-plan calendar, and housing arrangements. Securing housing had its hurdles, but NCCC was open to many creative housing solutions. We initially proposed four different housing options in our application, ranging from a cabin on an island to a church basement, and Alana worked with us to determine the best accommodation for a crew. We also developed a three-person supervision team to rotate through, which included myself and my coworkers, Adel Barnes and Leigh Ann Reynolds, to ensure our normal operation responsibilities were not hindered.
The most difficult part of the application and planning was Covid-19. The uncertainty due to Covid-19 was met with open communication by Alana about the challenges faced by both our organizations. After working out the details we were happy to be accepted as a host site for an NCCC crew for six weeks in the fall of 2020.
I finalized schedules, housing, and project preparation as the arrival date for the NCCC crew, known as the Cedar 4 crew, approached. I welcomed Cedar 4 the evening they arrived in late September 2020, pulling up to SLA in their big white van. Through our introductions to one another, I asked them what their passions were. In addition to answers of music, video games, and hiking, they all said some variation of helping people and their community.
As the training week commenced it was clear that all members of Cedar 4 were also passionate about learning. Throughout their time here, we hosted various conservation professionals for the members of Cedar 4 to learn from as part of their service term. This included an outside and distanced meeting with the Loon Preservation Committee’s Squam Loon Biologist, Tiffany Grade, on a cold and snowy day in October. The members were visibly cold, but that did not stop their curiosity as they proceeded to ask Tiffany questions for three hours.
Adel, Leigh Ann, and I loved working with the team on the trail building projects due to the enthusiasm they brought to the work. Cedar 4’s NCCC-designated crew leader was incredibly compassionate and hardworking. We knew we could rely on her to organize and motivate her crew members. Although the crew had limited trail-building experience, they were excited to learn more and be outside together. By the end of their six weeks here they had completed the one-mile hiking trail and one-mile of the mountain bike trail. Additionally, they assisted with several side projects including hauling lumber to build a new composting toilet and installing a donation collection device at one of the SLA’s trailheads.
Hosting an NCCC crew enabled the SLA to tackle projects and tasks that had been sitting on the to-do list for years, and all of it was accomplished during a pandemic. Introducing Cedar 4 to environmental conservation in the Squam watershed was just as rewarding as completing the projects. The SLA is now applying to host an NCCC crew annually so we can continue impactful work on our trail networks and in the watershed while engaging with young professionals. We are excited about the prospect of hosting more crews in the years to come!
About AmeriCorps NCCC
AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, team-based residential service program for 18-26 year-olds. AmeriCorps members serving in the NCCC program are assigned to one of four regional campuses and then placed into teams ranging between 8-12 members. The teams complete a variety of service projects, which are generally 3 to 13 weeks in duration, and respond to local communities’ needs throughout the United States and territories. Typical projects revolve around energy conservation, environmental stewardship, infrastructure improvement, natural disasters, and urban/rural development.
NCCC teams are also a potential resource when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination rollouts or staffing vaccination sites. NCCC members are not trained healthcare providers but could assist with COVID-19 vaccination efforts such as:
- Logistics and set up
- Crowd management support
- Observation post-vaccination
- Outreach and education
- Administrative follow up
2021 Project Timeline
Are you interested in hosting an AmeriCorps NCCC team in 2021? There is still time!
Project Dates: July 12 – September 11, 2021 or August 13 – October 14, 2021
- Concept form due: March 1, 2021
- Application due: April 1, 2021
Project Dates: September 20 – November 8, 2021 or October 21 – December 15, 2021
- Concept form due: May 4, 2021
- Application due: June 8, 2021
Contact Alana Svensen Hults, Assistant Program Director of NCCC – North Central Region, to learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-472-9664 ext 19.