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Students lend hand in historical restoration

Posted: Thursday, Jun 2nd, 2011

For the past week and a half, eight college students from the Wyoming Conservation Corps (WCC) have been working on the future New Fork River Crossing Historical Park, which will give the public an opportunity to walk a significant portion of the Lander Trail in the Pinedale Anticline.

The Sublette County Historical Preservation Board hired the WCC crew, who arrived May 23 and finished its 10-day stint at the site on Wednesday. During their time there, the volunteer workers built fencing at the northern and southern end of the park’s property lines, which will keep roaming cattle out, and several A-frame sets of stairs over the barbed-wire fences. They also installed gates and constructed two bridges across a canal and smaller ditch.

The WCC is part of the Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute for Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming (UW) and puts college students to work on community service projects around Wyoming. However, students working for WCC do not need to be enrolled in UW, and of the eight working on the Lander Trail crew, two do not. One attends the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), the other the University of Georgia.

The WCC student crews (there are six) work six 10-day projects throughout the summer, traveling from town to town for the next project. The crew has two team leaders, and field supervisors visit the sites where WCC students are working only if needed. Students receive college credit and a small stipend for their volunteer work.

Those volunteer hours look great on a resume, said co-crew leader Patrick Harrington after pointing out a bald eagle soaring above the New Fork River at the project site. Harrington, 23, is an environmental natural resource major at UW, and this is his second summer working for WCC. It isn’t just the volunteering he loves, but also the work itself.

“This is the best job on the planet,’ he said.

Crewmember Nancy Davidson, a 20-year-old elementary education major at UW, likes how WCC allows students the opportunity to travel around the state.

“Then you realize Wyoming is not just a boring, brown place,” she said.

Co-crew leader Amy Healy, who is double majoring in history and German at UNC and wants to become a teacher, said not only does the WCC program introduce one to new places around Wyoming, it also introduces crewmembers to new skills they might not have learned otherwise.

“Like, when else am I going to use a chainsaw?” Healy said. “I’m going to be a teacher.”

But Harrington, and other crew members with prior WCC experience, agreed working on the Lander Trail over the past week and a half has been unique.

Tyler Dooley, a rangeland ecology and water shed management major at UW, said this is his third summer working with WCC, and so far, the Lander Trail project has been his favorite. Other than appreciating the abundant wildlife in the area, Dooley said he likes working for a nonprofit like the Historic Preservation Board rather than a government agency, as many of the projects WCC crews work on are for the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service.

“In the three years I have done this, this is the best hitch I’ve been on,” Dooley said.

The Historic Preservation Board purchased the 82 acres that will soon become a historical park last August with the help of donations from Ultra, Shell and Pacificorp. Clint Gilchrist, a member of the Historic Preservation Board was hoping to have the park opened by this summer, but the Historical Society has not been able to raise the funds necessary for archeological work at the site, he said. He also doesn’t want to install a parking lot at the park before figuring out if there are historical treasures to be discovered.

Gilchrist said he has applied for a number of grants and hopes to receive funding this summer so the archeological work can be completed and the park can open by June 2012.

Other work that still needs to be completed along the river-crossing portion of the Lander Trail includes installation of signage, Gilchrist said. Two signs will be placed near the first bridge crossing over a canal near the future parking lot. Those signs will explain the significance of this portion of the Lander Trail, Gilchrist said. Another six signs will be installed along the half-mile long walking trail and hopefully include excerpts of diary entries from those who traveled the trail in the late 1800s, “to give a feel for what life was like at this spot 150 years ago,” Gilchrist said.

Trail grooming and possibly tree clearing and more fence work will also need to be done next spring before opening the park, Gilchrist said.

It costs $11,500 to have a WCC crew work on a project for 10 days. Gilchrist said the Sublette County Historical Preservation Board paid $6,500, and the remaining came from the Wyoming Community Foundation. The Historical Preservation Board also paid for $5,000 worth of supplies needed for the fencing and bridge projects.

Gilchrist couldn’t be happier with the work the college students have done over the past week. The crew has a great work ethic, completed the job well and got it done for less money than what it would have cost to pay a contractor, he said. He hopes to have a WCC crew return next spring to finish trail work.

The former owner of the land had a cabin on the property, complete with a kitchen. The WCC crew camped in the cabin and said it was a “luxury,” compared to other projects where they normally sleep in tents.

On Tuesday morning, the WCC crew was finishing building a set of stairs. It was the only day the crew had experienced warm temperatures and sunshine since they arrived. Gilchrist admits the snow, rain and cold weather didn’t seem like a fun work environment. But the WCC crew is proud of its work and seemed to have loved working on the Lander Trail. Crewmembers agreed, if asked, they wouldn’t hesitate to come back to the site next spring.

Gilchrist said the work also gave the students the opportunity to learn about the history of the site.

“It’s a great way to get more people introduced to the trail,” he said.

For the complete article see the 06-03-2011 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 06-03-2011 paper.

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