AmeriCorps teams restore Squak trails
February 15, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
The scrapes from shovels and the metallic ring from pickaxes splitting rock echoed across the morning stillness on Squak Mountain as AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps members remade a stretch of trail along a forested slope.
The team from the national service program set up in Squak Mountain State Park near Issaquah last week to upgrade trails and carve drainage ditches in the popular hiking destination.
AmeriCorps members launched restoration projects in the Issaquah Alps and along Issaquah Creek in early January. Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust leaders called on the team to complete projects throughout the 130-mile-long greenbelt from Seattle to Central Washington.
So, 21 recent high school and college graduates from across the United States came to remote trails in the Evergreen State. The team conducting the Squak Mountain project is based in Sacramento, Calif. Members hail from Washington and numerous other states.
The greenway relies on AmeriCorps teams to tackle projects along trails, restore habitat and maintain open spaces. Members chip at a long backlog of projects throughout the greenway.
“The demand is here, but unfortunately, the resources aren’t,” greenway Restoration Program Manager Tor Bell said at the Squak Mountain site late last week.
Teams added drainage ditches and constructed raised trail beds, or turnpikes, along a serpentine trail running from the Forest Rim neighborhood deep into the state park.
Commitment to serve
The construction site is about a 30-minute hike from the neighborhood, and each morning, teams dressed in matching AmeriCorps hood sweaters and hardhats steer through the fern-carpeted and moss-draped terrain to start the day.
“I just don’t want to forget how beautiful this is all the time,” team member and Pittsburgh native Laura Purves, 24, said during a hike to the site late last week.
Though geography and different backgrounds mean each team has a one-of-a-kind composition, a commitment to service binds the members.
University of Puget Sound graduate Marlene Hild, 22, spent a year in college studying in Asia, often in poverty-stricken countries. The time abroad prompted the Charleston, Ill., native to consider a stint in AmeriCorps.
“Coming home, I really wanted to help out at home,” she said during a break at the Squak Mountain site.
The national service program often called AmeriCorps is split into different programs. The teams on Squak Mountain hail from the National Civilian Community Corps, a full-time program for people ages 18-24.
The program is also residential. The teams bunk at Valley Camp in North Bend during projects in the greenway.
Other AmeriCorps programs include AmeriCorps State and National and AmeriCorps VISTA — the modern-day counterpart to the Volunteers in Service to America program established in 1965. AmeriCorps State and National, like the name implies, provides grants to service agencies conducting programs in education, public health and safety, and the environment.
The inaugural AmeriCorps class started serving in more than 1,000 communities nationwide. The program claims more than 500,000 alumni.
Teams pitch in for projects
AmeriCorps members receive a modest allowance, plus help to pay off student debt and loans. The program also offers participants a chance to dip into numerous career fields.
The teams joined Washington Conservation Corps members on the Squak Mountain project.
Launched in 1983 in the aftermath of a recession, Washington Conservation Corps founders modeled the program after the long-disbanded Civilian Conservation Corps as a job-training program for young adults in a tough economy.
Washington Conservation Corps Crew Supervisor Jesse Rogers said the combined commitment and enthusiasm from the state and AmeriCorps teams resulted in a productive environment. Members also heard the occasional thank-you from hikers ambling down the mountain path.
AmeriCorps is similar to the Washington Conservation Corps, although AmeriCorps teams participate in more than ecology and land-management projects.
Before the teams landed on Squak Mountain, Purves and others handled income tax preparation for low-income clients. The teams also offered a hand at a Sacramento food bank and participated in public school programs.
“It was definitely the best decision I have ever made,” Purves said.
Jenna Lamoreaux, 23, considered law school after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta. Instead, the Sugar Land, Texas, native opted for community service.
“I couldn’t ask for a better program,” she said during a break at the Squak Mountain site.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.