Summer jobs in trail work, weed removal taking root in Garfield County

Weeds, beware.

Trails, take heart.

A program that employed about 15 Garfield County teens and young adults this summer to do weed and trail work was enough of a success that county officials are talking about expanding it.

County commissioners committed $80,000 to the program in June as part of an endeavor to boost economic development and employment in response to the county’s high jobless rate.

The county worked through the Western Colorado Conservation Corps in Grand Junction to get the work projects done. That organization provides opportunities for people from 14 to 25 to work on outdoors projects while learning skills and even earning college scholarship money in the process.

This past summer, Garfield County crews did weed removal work and trail maintenance in places from Glenwood Springs to Rifle. They worked with agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, exposing the workers to potential future career opportunities. They also received training in areas such as herbicide application, chain saw safety and use, first aid and CPR, and camping skills such as packing out what they brought in and leaving heavy nonessentials out of a backpack.

Conservation Corps director Trevor Wickersham said that latter lesson was driven home when workers had to backpack three miles up the Mansfield Trail north of Silt to work on it.

“The crews really learned quickly what was a necessity up there, what was not,” Wickersham told county commissioners Monday in a report on how this summer’s program went.

Workers were paid $7.50 to $8.10 an hour. Most also worked at least 300 hours, enough to earn $1,132 in AmeriCorps scholarships, and some earned $1,400 in scholarships for working more than 450 hours.

For some, this summer’s program also has led to tamarisk removal work near Rifle that’s being paid for by the Southside Conservation District.

Garfield Commissioner John Martin said the program was a good way to help agencies that struggle to keep up with trail maintenance because of budget limitations.

He said part of this year’s funding came from the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which helps compensate local jurisdictions that have public lands that don’t generate property taxes.

“I think we’re using the proper funds for it and actually getting the proper return in terms of payments for federal lands,” Martin said.

County commissioners indicated they expect to double funding for the outdoor jobs program next year.


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