Imagine seven weeks without your bed, air conditioning, social media or any other creature comforts of your home. Now imagine getting up each morning to work outside repairing trails deep in the woods during the hottest days of the year. For six North Carolina high school students, along with their two college aged crew leaders, that is exactly what they did over the summer repairing trails in the Uwharrie National Forest.

The group, known as Crew Two, was part of the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC), a partnership between the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, that had 11 crews working at sites across the state. NCYCC Project Director Jan Pender said, “This is a summer job, the members of the crew work 40 hours a week and are paid $10 an hour. We want this to be a paid position because we don’t just want affluent young adults that can afford to volunteer for an entire summer. We want a diverse group and want to provide real world job experience to them. They are held accountable for their work and everything that goes along with it from being on time, to their performance.” Pender noted that funding for the program comes from the U.S. Forest Service, the Duke Energy Foundation. In addition, this crew is funded by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, Fred and Alice Stanback, Little Acorn Fund, Woodson Foundation, North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation and other private donors.

Crew Two was made up of Bryan Allison, 16, of Knightdale; Tommy Burch, 16, of Greensboro; Luke Dalli, 17, of Raleigh; Meagan Sagendorph, 17, of Hendersonville; Ailey Morlino, 16, of Tryon; and Emmy Norris, 17, of Stanfield. The crew was led by crew leaders Shayden Joe of Arizona and Jennifer Greig of Raleigh. Joe has worked with the Youth Conservation Corps for four years working out West and heard about the crew leader position through friends also involved with the corps. This is the first time he and fellow crew leader, Greig, have led a crew. Though it was her first time leading a crew, Greig had previous experience working with Americorps before coming to the Youth Conservation Corps.

As for the crew members, it was a new experience for all of them. They traded their computers and cell phones for shovels and tents. Morlino said, “I wanted to live in a tent and be outside in a camping situation. I’ve learned a lot about tools I never knew about and how poor the conditions on trails could be, but also how simply they could be fixed.” Morlino said she found out about the opportunity through a teacher of hers who had participated in California.

Norris said she had never done anything like this before. “I’m going to be a senior this year and this was an opportunity to explore more options. You don’t realize there are so many different jobs. After being here in the woods for seven weeks I’ve gone back and forth on wanting to be home and knowing that once I am home that I’ll miss being out here,” she said. Norris said she stumbled upon the opportunity during a visit to N.C. State where Pender spoke to students about the NCYCC.

For some, the experience runs in the family. Allison said, “My mother told me I had to have a summer job. My brother had worked with the YCC two years prior to this summer which is how I knew about it. So this is what I decided to do for the summer to help out.”

All of the crew members said that adjusting to life without a phone or computer wasn’t as difficult as they thought it would be. Morlino said, “I’ve actually enjoyed not having distractions all the time.” Norris added, “I don’t actually have a cell phone, but I have a laptop that I was always on. You realize once you don’t have them that you have to talk to people.”

During the seven weeks, the crew stayed at Badin Lake Campground within the forest. On weekends they could go into town to get groceries and do laundry. During the seven weeks they had a family day where their families came to visit and Crew Two also took a group trip to Roan Mountain, camping near the Appalachian Trail until a storm forced them to sleep in their van.

While working and camping they cooked their own meals and shared chores. Norris said, “We’ve had some really good food here. We learned to make our own bread, but Meagan makes the best bread here. I made bread and it was just dense and hard, but Meagan’s bread is fluffy. We even made some banana bread in a Dutch oven.” But just because the food they have had is good, doesn’t mean they aren’t looking forward to a meal once they get home. Allison said the first thing he plans to get once he is home is a burger, with Dalli looking forward to a T-bone steak. Morlino is a vegetarian and said it may not sound exciting but she is looking forward to vanilla yogurt and Norris will be having a French toast cinnamon roll.

Their main project while working in the forest was Lake Trail 703. The trail is designated for horseback riding, mountain bikes and hiking, though it is mostly utilized by horseback riders. The trail had seen previous improvements two years ago when the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps worked in the forest. Crew Two did routine maintenance to the previous improvements and also worked to finish upgrading the trail since the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps was only able to get about half way through the 1.1 mile trail.

Improvements included adding turnpikes, water bars to direct water flow and general erosion control. They explained that the trail was never designed as a trail but was once used as an old road so there were areas where water could pool and create obstacles that forced individuals to find other ways around. This leads to illegal trails forming in the forest as alternate routes. Almost all the work performed is done with hand tools and wheelbarrows, though some relief was provided to Crew Two with all terrain vehicles providing some hauling of gravel. In some low lying areas of the trail that had been reduced to mud holes, Crew Two would place 6x6 timbers parallel to each other and fill and pack gravel between them. Along with packing down the material the crew said rain would actually help set the repairs once completed.

The crew also explained that with the forest’s being an archeological site, they were not allowed to remove anything, and were limited to what had been approved to bring into the forest for repairs. This required them to think on their feet when it came to making some repairs, including some of the water bars. The crew could look at where the water would naturally flow then take loose clay and dirt from the trail and build a pile creating a barrier. Once the barrier was built up and packed down, a drain would be dug directing water to run off to the side of the trail and not pool up creating new mud holes.

The crew also had to break up large rocks by hand in certain places on the trail so they could move them to make the trail safer. They then used those same rocks to create drains in other areas of the trail. The crew also added a step in one spot on the trail to make it safer to navigate and also retain soil on the slope to aid in erosion control. In all, the work done by Crew Two should last at least 10 years with routine maintenance before any major repairs should be needed.

Crew Two finished up their field work Aug. 2 before spending a couple of days in classes designed to help them with resume writing, interview skills and other skills that will help them in their future job searches. For more information about the NCYCC visit ctnc.org .