A new program through the Wyoming Conservation Corps is putting eight military veterans to work this summer in the service of Wyoming’s state parks.
The Wyoming Veterans Trail Crew is kicking off its first season this summer, with team members already training for their upcoming work.
Crews will begin work right after Memorial Day, working 12 days straight with two-day breaks. They’ll put in 900 hours of work during the summer at state parks including Curt Gowdy, Glendo, Hot Springs, Buffalo Bill and Sinks Canyon, plus Medicine Lodge Archaeological Site, with a focus on trails work.
“They’ll be working on trails — building or maintaining or re-routing,” project coordinator Evan Townsend said.
Such work includes flagging new trails and building trailheads, stone staircases, turns for mountain bikes and bridges. They’ll also use chainsaws to remove hazard trees.
During their hitches, crews will camp near their work sites and prepare food in a common area while pursuing a singular goal.
“They are given their task, and the whole hitch, for 12 days, is them solving the problem together,” Townsend said.
He said the program is unique among veteran programs offered on campus because of its focus on employment.
“We’re straight-up hiring vets and putting them to work,” he said.
Among conservation corps programs for veterans around the country, the Wyoming crew will be the first to focus specifically on trails work, as opposed to general conservation projects.
“We are this very specialized unit that moves across the state and can build very complicated trails if need be,” he said.
The Wyoming Conservation Corps staff first considered the idea of a crew for veterans about a year ago, with the motivation of supporting veterans by providing jobs as well as training and other benefits.
Participants already received chainsaw certification and will spend next week learning wilderness first aid, Leave No Trace principles and sustainable trail-building practices. They’ll also have access to upper-division UW course credit.
Additionally, members will receive a monthly living stipend and a $2,887 Education Award when they complete their service. The award and stipend are funded by Serve Wyoming, which manages AmeriCorps programs in the state.
Other funding includes a $50,000 Recreational Trails Program Grant and a match from Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources. Rocky Mountain Power contributed money for training costs.
Kevin Wilson and Henry Bonds are the crew’s two leaders this summer. Wilson spent almost five years on the USS Rhode Island, a ballistic missile submarine, while also serving in the Georgia Army National Guard.
He said the Wyoming Veterans Trail Crew provided an opportunity to spend a summer working outside on public lands before he begins nursing school in the fall. He’s also looking forward to reconnecting with fellow veterans while being part of a team.
“I love being around vets and getting back into the camaraderie that was there in the military and is missing in civilian life,” he said.
Wilson has been out of the military for seven years, and he said he can offer tips to other vets who are making more recent transitions into civilian life.
“I’m hoping they can learn a little bit from me, and I can learn a little bit form them about our combined experiences,” he said.
Bonds, a student at UW studying history and criminal justice, spent many years as a volunteer trail builder at Curt Gowdy State Park with his father, and he’s looking forward to resuming the work.
He spent three years as part of the Third Infantry Regiment stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, where he was part of an honor guard that performed ceremonies for fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Over the last three years, being in Washington, D.C., I haven’t had nearly as much time to be out in nature, so I’m happy to get back to that,” he said.
He’s also looking forward to being part of the first trail crew for veterans.
“We’re really setting a pace for it, and I’m excited to do that,” he said.
Townsend said tourism is one of Wyoming’s most important industries, and the crew will be working in direct support of the state.
“I’m proud of the work they’re going to be doing,” he said. “They’re very excited about being a part of helping Wyoming in general and being outside and helping themselves.”
The Wyoming Conservation Corps was founded in 2006, with the purpose of building on the service-minded spirit of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and Youth Corps of the 1970s. Four civilian crews will also be working around the state this summer.