For many, life skills just can’t be taught in the classroom.For those people, life lessons are best learned hiking through our National Forests, state and federal parks and across Coconino County, engaged in projects aimed at deterring devastating wildfires while improving our native plant and animal habitats.
It’s the type of life and leadership skills our young adults learn every day, grasping shovels and pickaxes as they remove fuels for wildfires or develop trails for fellow outdoor enthusiasts. That’s exactly what members of the Coconino Rural Environmental Corps (CREC) and I did for National Trails Day on June 2.
I had the pleasure to work alongside CREC members and other volunteer organizations as we developed a segment of the Loop Trail that will eventually circumnavigate Flagstaff. The project allowed me to experience the pride they have in their work and how they are utilizing the program to build strong job skills.
Similar to Conservation Corps of the past, CREC is based on the corps model, which has been used nationally for the past 75 years to address critical environmental and infrastructure needs. Since its inception in 1997, CREC’s goal has been to provide youth and young adults with workforce development opportunities and natural and cultural resource conservation services.
Finding an employee who is able to work collaboratively in any environment is something every employer strives to find – whether it’s a front-line work crewmember or a manager who must effectively communicate with his/her staff.
In CREC’s 15 years, nearly 2,000 corps members have graduated from the program, which has offered $3.5 million in education awards. Graduates have put in many hours of volunteer service to our communities and engaged community members in trail and tree planting projects. We are proud to say that more than half of our graduates have chosen a career in environmental and land management fields.
Corps members have planted more than 100,000 trees and completed hundreds of miles of trails across Arizona. In addition to these accomplishments, CREC Energy Conservation Corps has weatherized 358 low-income homes, reduced more than 200 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and saved more than 300 megawatt hours of electricity.
CREC crews could also be called upon to spend countless hours filling sandbags and building sandbag walls to assist residents impacted by the Schultz floods.
While our corps members were showing their dedication to serving their community, many members may be unaware of the critical on-the-job work skills and leadership training they are actually receiving. With every collaboration among colleagues, spade of dirt or pickaxe to the ground, our youth are building the trails toward our collective futures. FBN
For more information on CREC, visit www.crecweb.org or call 928-679-8150. CREC’s services are made possible in collaboration with a wide variety of land and resource management agencies, including but are not limited to: U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Arizona State Parks, Forestry Division and Land Department, Bureau of Reclamation, Rural Communities Fuels Management Partnership, the Naval Observatory, the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River Greenway.
Written by Matt Ryan, Coconino County Supervisor District 3.