Backcountry Orientation: First Full Day

Morning of the first full day of Backcountry orientation starts with breakfast at 6:30. Breakfast is in Placer’s Dining Hall. Each Corpsmember will also build a sack lunch now, with a sandwich, fruit, and chips. After breakfast, each crew is delegated a clean-up routine of either the kitchen or the temporary shower and toilet facilities set up for the temporary influx of 100 more people to Placer.

Crews then get down to business.

The first order of business for the first day is to attend a talk on Backcountry Program Standards and Expectations. This talk is very much like the one given by Peter Lewis in 1987. It boils down to “Wake up early, hike fast, and respect one another.”

Then crews split out into three different tracks.

Some crews will start AmeriCorps and CCC Enrollment paperwork. Some crews will attend a sobriety discussion. Other crews will have driver training and orientation.

The bureaucratic labyrinth begins with AmeriCorps and CCC enrollment. Thirty years ago, this part was barely necessary. All of the Corpsmembers were already in the CCC. Today, a large portion of the Corpsmembers come directly from the Federal AmeriCorps Program. Every CM needs to be enrolled in both programs for each program to allocate the proper funds, and for each CM to qualify for and receive the scholarship bonuses available upon completion of the program.

Lining up for paperwork

The crews will line up outside of the temporary Backcountry admin building (a commandeered meeting room), forms are distributed, and CMs find the nearest flat surface on which to fill out the forms. Two hours are allotted for this process. Once the forms are completed, they are collected and sent inside to the admin staff, who will then process every single piece of paper that comes through. Every space has to be filled out correctly, and supporting employment eligibility documentation needs to be verified. Emergency notification forms need to be accurate, so that family can be quickly contacted in the event a CM has an emergency. It is critical that this documentation be completed before the crews leave here, because when they leave, they will be scattering all across California to places with no cell phone service, Internet, of fax machines.




Any flat spot will do.
ANY flat spot.
Not even senior Backcountry staff members are exempt from the ‘Any Flat Spot’ rule.

While two crews are navigating the bureaucracy trail, two other crews are having a sobriety discussion. A strict ‘no drugs, no alcohol’ policy has been a part of the CCC for a long time, almost since the beginning, and how serious the program is in following the path of sobriety is front and center here. In fact, today’s Backcountry CMs are required to take a sobriety pledge for the five months they are in the program.

While all of this is going on, two other crews are having their driver training and orientation. Not every CM in the program will be authorized to drive a vehicle. Drivers in the CCC have to pass a screening and training program to qualify for a ‘blue card’, which

Tire chain installation training

certifies them to drive CCC vehicle. Each C1 will spend time with the designated drivers on the crew to cover the proper way to fill out vehicle mileage logs, how to fill out the accident report kit, and how to put on tire chains in the event of snow. The Backcountry Program starts at the end of April and runs through the end of September, and the crews will be traveling high up into the mountains. Snow is definitely possible at the beginning or the end of the season. Each C1 also takes each driver for a test drive, so that the C1 can be confident in the abilities of each driver. The non-drivers on the crew will receive training at this time in how to run a pre-trip inspection on a vehicle.




Pre-trip inspection training


All of this is happening simultaneously from 8:45-10:45 on the first full day of Orientation. At 10:45, the crews switch places. That will take them to lunch at 12:45. After lunch, the crews switch places again. By the end of the day, each crew will have spent two hours at each of the ‘First Day’ station. Paperwork will be complete. Sobriety will have been discussed and pledges taken. Vehicle policies will have been covered.

Backcountry admin staff have been hard at work all day. Every form has been inspected microscopically. Missing data on forms, or issues with employment eligibility documentation have got to be resolved before the admin staff leaves for the day. As the weak spots in the documentation are uncovered, runners are sent out to find the CM in question, or at least the C1, to resolve these issues. It takes a long time to completely process all of the necessary paperwork for 97 CMs enrolled across state and Federal programs. The admin staff is commonly here until 9:00 PM making sure that every I is dotted and T is crossed. The admin staff are some of the unsung heroes of the Backcountry Trails program.

Backcountry Trails Program Admin Staff: Thank You!

And so ends the first day of Backcountry Orientation.

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