Rocky Mountain Youth Corps: A toast to trails and tales

Gretchen Van De Carr
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Thirty years ago, I led Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ first crew on a project for the Bureau of Land Management, Little Snake Resource Field Office, headquartered in Craig. Six local teens joined me on Diamond Peak in Northwest Colorado. This is an account of that first day ever.

The setting is a beautiful lodgepole pine forest surrounded by hills and mountains. A half-built and run-down buck-n-rail fence surrounds the makeshift campground utilized primarily by hunters. Cattle and deer roam the area.

The crew begins to stir as the sun rises, donning T-shirt uniforms with the RMYC logo printed across the back, new work gloves, old “TIC” hard hats and shiny leather boots. A kitchen table with a camp stove and coolers and food boxes sits next to a city of Steamboat Springs Ford Bronco. The day starts with an early breakfast of eggs, oatmeal and bagels.

The crew then “circles-up” to review the day’s agenda, proper tool use, safety issues and stretches. The workday begins with a drive up Diamond Peak to thin out a young lodgepole pine forest, and cut the trees to size to use for the replacement buck-n-rail fence back at the campground. After several hours of hard labor, the crew breaks for a lunch of PBJs, chips, fruit and gorp.

I facilitate a game of riddles to get their minds off their already aching bodies. The afternoon is spent hauling the newly formed fence materials down the hill to the campground and unloading them along the proposed fenceline. Corps members work together to nail the fence together, using standards set by the BLM.

The workday is over, and the corps members start their daily chores. Some begin dinner preparation, while others clean the vehicles, sharpen tools, collect and treat drinking water, or make tomorrow’s lunch. After a dinner of Dutch-oven pizza and Kool-Aid, the crew gathers around the campfire to get to know each other by sharing their hopes and dreams for the future. Seven tents are tucked into the trees not far from the firepit. Lights out isn’t necessary, since the sun has not yet set when the members snuggle deep into their bags and drift off into a much-needed slumber, in anticipation of another great day to come.

This “First Day Ever” of life as a Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crew member has since been repeated over 40,000 times, each day a new beginning for a unique set of crew members, work tasks, nature encounters and inner truth discoveries.

Today, RMYC has engaged more than 13,000 youth and young adults in outdoor service projects and education, which few are fortunate enough to experience ever in their life. That feeling of “wild peace” and being grounded comes from a special and intimate connection with the land, having worked with blood, sweat and tears alongside a new family formed from strangers; that feeling of pushing your envelope of comfort for days, weeks, and months; to find strength deep inside that you never knew existed; to realize you are not alone in your sense of belonging, awkwardness, knowledge, uncertainty, stagnation and freshness.

This journey that has led me to the past thirty years of sharing these feelings of the highest order was started on pure selfishness. The joy and determination of being able to spend time outdoors has continually accompanied me through the hard times to the elations of providing these rare opportunities to young people from many backgrounds. I cannot think of a better way to spend my career.

Gretchen Van De Carr is the founding CEO of RMYC. She will be retiring in February of 2024.

RMYC Celebration

RMYC invites you to celebrate 30 years on Saturday, Sept. 30, at The Steamboat Grand ballroom. Also, enjoy 30 “Tales from the Trails” videos from alumni through the years, shared daily throughout September on our Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as on our website.

RMYC is a youth and environmental non-profit based in Steamboat Springs serving youth and young adults ages 11-30 throughout NW Colorado in four program models: Youth Corps, Conservation Corps, Natural Resource Internships, and Yampa Valley Science School.

For more information,

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps has engaged more than 13,000 youth and young adults in outdoor service projects and education over the years.
Courtesy photo

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