Welcome to CCC: Hard Corps

Every Corpsmember has a story worth telling.

When I joined the California Conservation Corps in August, 1986, I was amazed by the diversity among my co-workers. I had been led to believe before I joined that the CCC was made up primarily of troubled youth. I found the reality to be much different. And in a good way!

Sure there were people one step ahead of trouble back home…and not always just with the law! But those people were in the minority. A lot of us were city, country, and suburban kids with no clear sense of direction. (And even at 21, I’d say I was still a kid in a lot of ways in 1986.)

My first boss at Del Norte Center was a woman from a middle class family in Marin County who had been a wildland fire fighter at Humboldt Center and a long time trail worker in Yosemite National Park. Michael Collins was on my crew. You might remember Michael’s brother, Kevin. Yeah…that Kevin Collins. Michael was one of the old timers on the crew who taught me what the CCC was all about.

The diversity never stopped. I met the first openly LGBT people that I had ever known were LGBT. Obviously, I really had met them before. I just hadn’t known it. Louis L’Amour once wrote that ‘trail dust is thicker than blood’, and in the forge of the daily grind of CCC work projects, ‘they’ quickly bonded into ‘we’ in the CCC family.

I lived and worked with people who came from all across the country; from the ranches of Healdsburg to the streets of New York City.

I watched a young lady with low self-esteem and no self-confidence blossom into an incredible human being. Qualifying to run chain saws on our crew was only her first step. She left our crew to take a CCC internship with CalTrans on a tree crew—running chain saws. She went on to a US Forest Service career as a Hot Shot fire fighter. Yeah…she gained confidence and self-esteem.

One guy who joined the CCC at the same time as I did and was on my crew at the training academy had hitchhiked from New York to California in four days, and was living in Golden Gate Park when he joined the CCC just to have a job.

Some people show up to the CCC with an already impressive resume. One of my best friends in the C’s already had a BA in English Lit. Another friend of mine came to the CCC with a bachelor’s degree in Sino-Soviet relations, and had been an English teacher in China for a year before deciding that teaching wasn’t her thing, and wanting to pursue third world reforestation. She came home from China, joined the CCC when she discovered that the CCC did tree planting and also offered a small scholarship upon completion of one year, and left the C’s after that year to pursue a second degree in forestry. (Scholarships today are much larger. You’ll learn about those sorts of things over time at CCC: Hard Corps.)

And there were people like my mentor, Terrance Johnson. T came from the streets of LA. When I showed up on the crew, he was working on his GED. He knew about human nature, and he knew how to lead people, and my friend T taught me that motivation counts for almost everything when you’re trying to accomplish something really, really hard. T taught me how to work; I helped T study for his GED. We learned that the best way to get through trying times is to have each other’s back.

I met people that were born in Hong Kong and Spain, Mexico and Ethiopia.

And these are just people that I knew. Multiply that number by thousands.

So, yeah, every Corpsmember has a story worth telling.

I kept waiting for somebody to write their story down. I kept looking for memoirs about working on a Backcountry trail crew, or firefighting in some of the worst fire seasons in the country. I waited and waited, and looked and looked. Nothing ever appeared.

Then I read that if you can’t find the book you want to read, maybe you should be the one to write it. I started working on my Backcountry trail crew memoir. I’m still working on that one. I also realized that the CCC story is so much bigger than just my story, and it has to be told, but it really isn’t. Not widely, anyway.

Then I learned about blogging, and it occurred to me that in addition to writing the book I’d like to read, maybe I can also be the one to collect all of the Corpsmember stories that I’d like to read, too.

Through the Internet, we can provide a place for those CCC stories to be told. We can provide a platform for Corpsmembers to share their incredible stories. And every Corpsmember has them.

If you are a former CCC member, we would love for you to share your story here. Follow the Contact Us information to the right side of this page. Send us your stories and your pics.

And we would like to welcome all of our visitors who were not CCC members. We hope you enjoy hearing our stories as much as we love telling them. Be sure to let others know we’re here, too!

Happy Trails!

George T. Parker

11 thoughts on “Welcome to CCC: Hard Corps

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  1. I really enjoyed your piece, George Parker! I spent 15 years as a C-1! Before I was a C-!, I was a Special Corpsmember, first at Tehama Fire Center, now Ishi Fire Camp, then at Escondido. my path took me to Santa Clara, to Yosemite( Backcountry Trail Program), to Santa Cruz Satellite…enjoyed going to Mexico with the CCC…to help Mexico start a similiar program! I loved the CCC, and when they closed my crew and offered a position in San Jose area…one that hadn’t existed…I made a decision to stay here in Santa Cruz so we could raise our son, then just 5 yrs old,in one location,and not move around like a gypsy. Yup, my priority was our son! Made a lateral transfer to CalTrans, here in SC! When the good Lord closes a door, he opens a window! 20 years later, our son finished university with a degree in Environmental Resource Engineering! With a love and a responsibilty for our planet! Maybe all of our backpacking trips rubbed off!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you liked it, Alisa. Sounds like you have a great CCC story, too. Would you like to write about it? 🙂

      Seriously, I will be running a piece on Tehama Fire Center next week. I interviewed three Corpsmembers who were there: Penelope Johnstone, Karen Brown (Wilson), and John Leonard. I would love to be able to get one more perspective. What was your job there as a Special Corpsmember? Let me know if you would like to pursue this.

      Thanks so much for your support!



  2. I worked for the Y.C.C. (Youth Conservation Corps) the summer after my 10th grade year. We did alot of front country work, hiking and team building. I remember clearing a piece of trail with my crew when all of the sudden a rag tag group of young adult came hiking past us. They had on packs and were carrying equipment and hiking faster than any one I’d ever seen! I found out that they were a part of the C.C.C. That encounter lit a fire in me and drove me to graduate high school and try out for the C.C.C. program.
    I graduated from Clovis, CA. My family moved to Kentucky a week later and my boyfriend at the time went off to college in Oregon. I met with a C-1 in Fresno and requested the furthest area with the most intense work they had. I was excited to learn of an opening in Klamath, California!
    When I arrived, we were called Comets and had separate housing quarters from the residents. We endured training by hiking, p.t. sessions, running up mountains and team building exercises. My feet were raw from issued boots and my body aches, but I loved the comradery and encouragement. Graduating from being a Comet felt good.
    I ended up on Crew 5 with Phil Lafollet. (Shout out… Crew Fiiiivvve!) He taught me to be a fighter and not give up on a task. (I learned to build the best firepits, lol!)
    My last C-1 through Requa (the name of our post in Klamath) was Terrance Johnson. He taught me leading doesn’t mean being first. He toughened me and trusted me. He lead through valuing people and seeing what they could individually offer the team.
    While working in the C’s I was sent to leadership training in San Luis Obispo, took forestry classes through College of Redwoods (rip Tom Hunnycut) and was taught how to respond to state emergencies. I attained a class B licence, became chainsaw certified (Thx “Chunky!”) and fell in love with going on Spikes. It was during those Spikes that I learned of the Backcountry Program with Peter Lewis (rip <3)
    Being chosen to go to Backcountry turned my soulfire into a blazing bonfire. I was thrilled! Not only did I get to join the legacy of my fellow corpies before me, but I got to go to Kings Canyon National Park!
    The summer of 98. My gosh did I find out I had alot of maturing to do! Living with a Crew of 15-18 people for 5 months exposes a person's strengths and weaknesses. I learned alot about myself that summer. I was pushed physically, emotionally and spiritually beyond anything I could have imagined. I enjoyed nature from it's ugliest to it's fullness in what it could offer. Our C-1 was top notch along with the very seasoned crew from the national park service. It was a time that grew me.
    I left the C's shortly after my return from backcountry. I was engaged and missing my family in Kentucky. Some of bonds I made with the people I lived with and worked with are eternal and I am so greatful for the time that was given to me during 1994-1998.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your story, Shawna, and it’s exactly what we’re looking for at CCC:Hard Corps. I would love to run it as a featured CM profile. Would you have any photos that could go with it? You can send them to kilgorehendel@yahoo.com .

    Terrance was a blue had when I joined. He was our ACL for Crew 3 at Del Norte. My son is on his crew now in Redding.


  4. Awesome to read your story George! I served with a similar conservation corps program in Colorado, and can strongly relate to the learning experience that you write about. We definitely need to celebrate the hardworking men and women who consistently bust their asses to maintain our public lands. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Brian! I am encouraged and excited to see how the youth conservation corps model has spread across the country. I really believe that every Corpsmember has a story that deserves to be told. I think that if we tell our stories, collect them, and show them to the public, we can help continue the AmeriCorps legacy by building public opinion in support of the program. I was in the California Conservation Corps before there was an AmeriCorps, and I have seen how mutually beneficial the two are to each other. Would you mind if I share stories from your blog occasionally here?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This was a very pleasant read. As I grow more interested in the idea of wildland firefighting, the different jobs intrigues me. I’m trying to get some work at a local tree service here in Massachusetts to get experience under my belt before moving out west to pursue wildland suppression. Look forward to read some of your future blogs!


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