Sometimes faith in maps gets you lost.

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I’ll tell you what we expected to see.

There would be a trail leading to the left, marked orange.  Similarly there would be a trail leading to the right, marked blue.  Our map suggested this intersection to be neat, orderly and simple.

“[expletive]”

“That’s a problem”

“[expletive]”

“This is bad”

The Forest Service staff don’t seem pleased with our discovery.

After spending a day hiking nearly 10 miles with a new map and GPS application, our crew understood what we found.  We did not find a simple confluence of the orange and blue equestrian trails.  Instead we stumbled into a knot of trail offshoots all claiming ownership of the blue trail.  There were three or four paths sprouting in all directions.  Each had large blue arrows (too many, in my opinion) haphazardly pointing into the woods.  No orange arrows were found.

It was as if we were lost in some Dr. Seuss story.  Except in this case there was no wacky creature to guide us through the obstacles while teaching us a valuable life lesson along the way.

Sometimes faith in maps gets you lost. 

It turned out we were a half mile east of the intersection we had hoped to find.  The trail we had hoped we were working on turned out to be a half mile west of where we were working.  Where we were working did not seem to correspond to any known trail charted on the Forest Service maps.  Who is responsible for this?

There is a group made up of equine enthusiasts who volunteer with the Forest Service to clean and maintain the horse trails.  It is suspected that this organization cut our mystery trail without consulting the Forest Service.  In doing so they created a trail on federal land without the blessing of the tax payers who pay for it.

This outlaw trail crew likely operates in the dead of night.  Their hand crews and dozers infiltrate dense stands of Lonestar Pine to complete their assignments from unnamed stakeholders.  Black banners fly from their dozers depicting a piercing white horse skull cradled by two crossed pulaskis.  Come dawn, this crew morphs back into the friendly family volunteer group.  They show up some Saturdays wearing shorts and flip flops doting pairs of loppers to cut vegetation on the trails.  Few know the clandestine arm of this unassuming group of trail riders.  

The work our crew engages in is much less glamorous than the extra curricular trail work of these horse people.  But that’s because our crew has far more grit than those weekend warriors could ever hope to have.  You know, grit.  That stuff grown folks have that allows them to do the things that they don’t want to do, but HAVE to.  No one sane likes doing trail work in East Texas during the Summer.  But our crew does it anyway.  We do it to serve the Forest Service, the tax payers, and the environment.  We also do it for the money.  Depending on who you talk to it may mostly be for the money.  We are mercenaries; plant killers and trail cutters for hire.  We are paid only with the generous support of the Forest Service, and a modest paycheck.

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Meet the crew.

“My experience with the YCC has challenged the crew members and I to become stronger workers.  For example, the first week of trail work in the Davy Crockett National Forest was exhausting.  The trail work wasn’t too bad but the walking was the death of me.  I mean my crew could’ve just dug my grave there on the trail.  Walking 2-3 miles a day was enough for me and that was just the 2nd day!  I was like any other kid and I wanted to quit, but how lame would that have been?  But as the weeks went by, the easier the job had gotten.  I’m glad I didn’t quit because I would’ve missed out on meeting great personalities and building friendships.  But most Importantly was getting my check!  ♥ JK!” -Azja

“While working the short term I have with the YCC crew, I have experienced many obstacles.  Working the long morning hours of trail work made me stuff my face during our lunch breaks.  While doing so I did not realize the outcome on the walk back to the trail would be.  The whole time I was just wanting to sit down and was regretting eating the amount of food I did.  The feeling of wanting to throw up every day made me question whether or not the job is worth it.  But, the feeling I got when we received our first paycheck made all of the awful and dreadful times of feeling sick well worth it.” -Ramsi

“Working on the YCC crew in the Davy Crockett National Forest has been a very constructive experience for me.  This program has taught me how it feels to work hard and to make good money for a 17 year old.  The feeling of coming home after a long day was just so relaxing.  Falling asleep in the shower was a good way of helping me relax.  I am very thankful for this program and all it has taught me.” -Ethan

 

Then there is Jeremy.  Jeremy took some time off and has not responded to my request for a blog post.  I’m so proud.  Just like a true mercenary.  Off the clock means off the clock.

“I do trail work for the money.” -Jeremy

 

The horse people know nothing of grit.  What they do they do only for fun, adventure and some sense of reckless entitlement.  We see them cutting us off in traffic.  They drive their bright yellow Jeeps with gag worthy bumper stickers.

 

“My other ride is a horse”

…I’ve never seen a horse ridden by a donkey.

 

Hopefully our service will re-creates spaces in Davy Crockett National Forest where people can safely recreate with their horse friends.  That way, black-ops trail crews don’t go gangbusters and cut their own stupid trails which degrades our precious natural resources.  Our crew has the grit to do it.  That’s why they pay us the big bucks.

 

Forget horses, get PAID

-Harrison, Jeremy, Ethan, Ramsi and Azja

 

The horse people are probably nice and fine folks

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Everybody Goes to the…

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into when I signed up to work on the Let’s Move! Outside initiative and assist the Community Coordinator at the YMCA in Austin.  However, it sounded like something I would enjoy because I am passionate about working with kids and helping them find meaning in a world that can be hard to see where you fit in.  In the first two weeks working as an AmeriCorps member, I learned more than I thought was possible in that amount of time.  I was exposed to the non-profit world, and I saw just how passionate everyone in this field really is about what they are doing to make a difference.  If I wasn’t sure about anything else, I knew that enjoying what you do and being passionate about improving the lives of young people was something I immediately recognized in the people I work with.

After getting settled in, the real work really began.  I spent a lot of time researching the huge movement taking place around the United States to connect children to nature and serve their community.  I was amazed how many organizations already took a hold of this idea and built multiple programs to benefit the lives of many children.

We just had our Launch on May 26th, and it went really well.  I was happy to see how many people and organizations supported our effort and were on board with us. From here, we will be planning our first summit and really starting to connect and understand how we can collaborate with other like-minded individuals. I’m ready to start getting youth and families outdoors and active in nature and public lands!

By: Rosalie M.

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