Alex Lopez: Meeting the Governor

When CCC crews are working on emergencies, they never know who they’re going to meet!

My name is Alex.

We were on a Yucca Valley fire back in 2006, I think. I’m from CCC San Diego, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was gonna do a presser. I’ve been working very hard way before this point. We cleaned the CalFire van that he was gonna pull up in. It was probably over 100 degrees outside. When our crew saw him, I looked to my C1 and said, “I need to take a picture with the governor.” She gave me and the leadworker an ‘okay’ to go.

And that’s my story.

Photo courtesy of Alex Lopez.


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The 2017 Backcountry Trails Season

My intention at the start of the season was to post a few stories on Backcountry orientation, then post a few crew updates throughout the season.

It didn’t work out that way.

Other things got in the way,and I did not get any writing in over the entire summer. Not on any of my ongoing writing projects. Hopefully, I am back on my feet now and you can look forward to a steady supply of CCC stories.

We’ve been pretty Backcountry-centric this week, as well. Be sure, this blog is not just for the Backcountry Trials program, but for all aspects of the CCC. We will cover other stories as they come up, but I had a lot of material to get out on Orientation, and with Debriefing next week, I could not delay the Orientation material any longer without it becoming hopelessly outdated.

You will see two non-Backcountry stories next week, and the following week, I will post about Debriefing. Then we will move on to some other CCC stories.

Meanwhile, even though I did not cover the Backcountry program over the summer, there is still plenty of material out there. The CCC has graciously shared many of their pictures with us via Facebook, and they have allowed me to share some of their photos on this blog.

The following is a gallery of pics from the 2017 season, from all crews, in no particular order.

Enjoy, and we’ll see you after debriefing.

The Rest of Orientation

Day 3—

More classroom. EEO training. EEO is Equal Employment Opportunity, and they are the rules that govern discrimination. Not everybody comes to the CCC, AmeriCorps, or the Backcountry program having experienced a diverse workplace. The CCC might be the first place that some CMs have ever had to work closely with people of other races or beliefs. Not only will they be working among diversity in the Backcountry, they will be living it, too, in very close quarters. EEO training might be the first time that some people have ever even considered that living in a diverse group might have its own special set of dynamics. This training covers Federal and California law that covers diversity.

CMs will also have a Writing Workshop on Day 3. Literacy is an important part of the program. Not only are books provided to read over the summer, but blank notebooks are provided that CMs will be expected to write in over the summer. This class gives CMs some guidelines for capturing their once-in-a-lifetime experiences over the following summer in words on paper.

Day 4—

This is the day that the crews finally get to spend the day outside. The only job they have to do today is hike with their crew. Carrying all their gear. All day. This is the final shake down before they hit the road for their work projects. This is where they find out if everything they have to carry fits well in their packs. This is where they find out if their boots are quite fitting well. This is the day where they get to experience the required hiking pace of three miles per hour with a load.

The crews pack their crew gear into their vehicle in the evening of this day.

Day 5—

This is the day that their journey gets real. They break their tents down in the morning and pack them. They eat breakfast and clean up the kitchen and showers/toilets one last time. Then they hit the road for their trial season.

And they’re off…

Orientation takes place during the last week of April. These crews have spent the last five months learning how to build and maintain trails in some of the most beautiful places in California: Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, Stanislaus, and Inyo National Forests, and Big Basin State Park.

Next week is Debriefing, signaling the end of the 2017 Backcountry Trails season. I will be there, and will bring you some stories of that celebration afterwards.

We will end today’s post with a gallery of final scenes from the 2017 Backcountry Orientation…

School Day

Everybody who applies to the Backcountry program loves the outdoors. They love the sun on their faces. They love the wind in their hair. They live for the challenge of pushing their bodies to the limit. They love testing their endurance.

Day 2 of Orientation is not one of those sun in your face, wind in your hair kind of days.

They do get to test other types of endurance. Like…how long can you sit in a chair?

Day 2 is mostly classroom work. There is a morning class and an afternoon class. One of the classes applies to the outdoors. It’s a basic maps and compass course. The other is an important class for understanding state health and safety policies. Half of the crews are in one class, the other half in the other, and they switch after lunch.

One might think that in our high tech 21st century with GPS that there wouldn’t be a need for archaic methods as a paper map and compass. One would be wrong.

A GPS needs a clear view of multiple satellites to work. The Backcountry is full of canyons that block satellite signals. And what would you do if your GPS battery died?

Therefore, all Backcountry CMs are given basic instruction in how to use a good ol’ map and a compass together to navigate their way through the Backcountry.

Health and safety are two very important topics for the Backcountry. Everybody tries to be as safety conscious as possible, but things do happen. It’s important for everybody to know CalOSHA guidelines and the process of filing claims for injury.


After the classes are over…gear check!

And then dinner.

And Day 2 is done.

The Rest of Day 1

Yesterday’s post on Orientation Day 1 was just the officially scheduled activities.

But, wait! There’s more!

Corpsmembers already in the CCC are supposed to report to orientation with three sets of uniforms. But remember, a large portion of Backcountry CMs are direct hires through AmeriCorps. They don’t have any uniforms to bring. All of those AmeriCorps CMs need to be properly outfitted with uniforms and boots. Where do they fit this in?

Anywhere they can.

The process actually starts on Arrival Day, or maybe we could call it Day 0. A stockpile of uniforms are on hand in a designated supply area at Placer. Each crew will spend some time in this room outfitting CMs who need uniforms. This will not be completed on Day 0. Some time will be needed on Day 1 to complete the process. On Day 1, crews and CMs will fit this in wherever they can. As paperwork is completed, a group from the crew might be told to go over to supply and finish outfitting. They might be able to squeeze some time in after Vehicle Procedures. There will be less time for this by the end of Day 2, so it needs to be completed by the end of Day 1.



Have you noticed that all of the uniform shirts have patched on the sleeves? There will be at least one CCC patch and an AmeriCorps patch. Arriving CCC members might have more patches, such as a center patch representing the CCC center they came from, a crewleader or specialist rocker, or any of several special program patches.

Guess what? The shirts don’t come with these patches already on them.


Yes, a sewing kit is on that list of essential items that every CM is expected to bring to Backcountry. Continue reading “The Rest of Day 1”

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.

IMG_6044 Continue reading “Backcountry Orientation: First Full Day”

Backcountry Orientation, 2017

As the 2017 Backcountry Trail season winds down into its last weeks, I wanted to share the glimpse that I had of the birth of the season.

I had intended to write a chronological piece covering one typical day at orientation.

I couldn’t do it. Not chronologically, anyway.

A Backcountry Orientation is a very chaotic animal. Many different things are happening simultaneously, but every piece of that chaos is directed towards a very specific goal: outfitting six separate crews and getting them on the road to their respective Backcountry locations. Those six crews are made up of six supervisors and ninety-seven Corpsmembers, or CMs. These ninety-seven people are mostly from California, but a good number of them are coming in from all over the country. They are arriving by car, bus, plane, and train…and not all at the same time.

The first day of orientation is Arrival Day. Backcountry Program staff have a carefully crafted itinerary of rounds between the airport, bus station, and train station to pick up incoming CMs and getting them safely to the CCC’s Placer Center in Auburn. Unlike 1987, when all of the arriving CMs were coming through the bus station and it was easy to let them wait there for a while until a van-load had accumulated, or the had the option to walk the few blocks to the center, CMs today have to be transported from the west side of Sacramento to Auburn, about thirty miles. They are arriving all day. Sometimes arrivals are not on time because of their transportation. In 2016, flights from east of the Mississippi River were delayed because of a hurricane that diverted flight paths. This is quite the logistics undertaking.

The CMs arrive at Placer by the van load. Backcountry Program Director Karlson Hubbard is there to meet each group as they pile out of the van. He greets them with a Welcome Speech, and knows them all by name. What makes this really amazing is that this is the first time he has met the out-of-state arrivals face to face. He knows all ninety-seven of them from the application process, which involves phone interviews and background checks. Each application has included a recent photo of the applicant, and Karlson knows them all by sight by the first day of Orientation.

So far so good. This part is easy to cover chronologically.

But then…

After hearing Karlson’s Welcome talk, the CMs are split up into their crews and meet their supervisor, which in the CCC is titled Conservationist 1, or C1. The first van might have anywhere from seven to fifteen people in it, so there are only a few people with each crew so far. The C1s introduce themselves and begin going over preliminary procedures with each CM, which includes inventorying gear. Each CM has received a list of gear they are expected to bring with them to orientation. Each C1 has to make sure that each CM does, indeed, have every item listed on the inventory. Each CM is also provided with a set of uniforms and work boots. If a CM is not already a member of the CCC and has already brought uniforms from their center, uniforms need to be issued. Each CM is also expected to report with several pieces of documentation relating to employment, such personal identification and verification of employment eligibility. Each C1 has to check each CM to make sure their documentation is in order. Each crew also has to set up their camp in a big field.

This is where it starts getting chaotic. More CMs are added to the mix throughout the day. Karlson greets every van. Then each CM is directed to wherever his/her crew is at the moment…but the crews don’t stay put. They might be erecting tents in the field. They might be at supply. They might be in an out-of-the-way corner of Placer Center going over paperwork. Each C1 is responsible for directing their own crew through all of these stations and keeping track of every one of their CMs.

By the time all ninety-seven CMs have reported, it’s close to dinner time, and the end of Arrival Day at Backcountry Orientation Week.

Just wait until you see the program for tomorrow!

Backcountry Orientation, 1987

Before I talk about the Backcountry Trail Program Orientation of 2017, I’d like to tell you about Backcountry Orientation thirty years ago, in 1987. That was the year that I went Backcountry. I was from Del Norte Center. Del Norte was on the North Coast, at the mouth of the Klamath River and near the town of Klamath.

In 1987, there was no AmeriCorps. The Backcountry program was strictly for members of the CCC. There were still six crews. That year there were two Yosemite crews, and one each in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, and the Inyo and Shasta-Trinity National Forests.

Each Corpsmember was responsible for getting themselves to Delta Center in Stockton for Orientation. Since joining the Backcountry program was essentially a voluntary transfer away from your center, you had to provide transportation to your new work location. I spent the weekend before Backcountry at my parent’s place in Antioch, so it was easy for them to drive me over to Stockton. Other CMs either were dropped off, or took a Greyhound bus to Stockton.

Monday was our travel day. We came dribbling in, individually or small groups, and were directed to our quarters for the next couple of nights. We were all housed in a long barracks-type bay at Delta. We were on our own that first night for dinner. We all knew what crews we had been assigned to, but hadn’t been formally placed upon those crews yet. A bunch of us formed a hodge-podge group and went out for pizza.

Tuesday was our Orientation Day. Peter Lewis was the Backcountry Director at that time. He was a remarkable and dynamic man. He had worked trails in Yosemite National Park for years, before becoming a CCC crew supervisor, or C1, and leading Backcountry crews himself. The morning of debriefing was largely a pep talk from Peter. He told us what the expectation would be for the summer. His key words of wisdom boiled down to “Wake up early, and hike fast.” He reminded us of the Big Five Rules of the CCC: No drugs or alcohol, no fighting, no refusal to work, and no destruction of State property. Violation of any one of these rules called for automatic termination from the program. Peter also spun magical tales of life in the Backcountry that held us spellbound. This is what we had all volunteered for. I had first heard about the Backcountry Program during my initial training at the Academy, outside of San Andreas. When I saw the Backcountry slide show that night, I knew that this program was exactly the adventure I had been looking for when I had left Illinois only about a month earlier. The entire focus of my CCC time for eight months was earning a place on a Backcountry trail crew, and now I was here. Everybody else here was just as eager to get started.

After lunch, we met formally with our crews for the first time. The C1 introduced himself or herself and shared their background that had brought them here. Everybody on the crew did the same. The C1 talked about their own expectations for their crews, and talked about the coming work projects for the summer. That took us to dinner, which we ate in the Delta dining hall.

And Orientation was over.

That was it. The next morning, we all piled in our vans and took off for our work projects and the rest of our summer.

Orientation in 2017 is a little more complex. Tomorrow we will begin that tale.

Coming Off Hiatus


Sorry I’ve been gone so long. Had some unavoidable issues pop up that prevented me from covering the CCC. I’m back now, and expect to stay.

Starting on Monday, I will start a short series on the 2017 Backcountry Trails Program Orientation, which took place back in April.

The following week is the Backcountry Trails Program Debriefing, which is the last day of the season. I plan to be there at Camp Mather. I would love to post live from there, but Camp Mather is kind of remote with spotty cell phone service, if any. I think I can get service if I hike up the hill to the Evergreen Lodge. I will keep you posted. I will definitely post stories and pictures as soon as I can afterward.

I also hope to finally get a story up about the Tehama Fire Center. Some of the people I interviewed for that keep asking when they will be able to see the story. They are asking “Didn’t you talk to me about this years ago?” Well, it wasn’t that long ago. It was only last year. However, even with as much material as I had, something about it didn’t seem finished. In the mean time, I found another TFC alum who had some pictures of the facility. These pictures will really help support the story. Next week, I hope to acquire a few more pictures, and then I feel my story will be complete enough to post. Thank you for your patience, TFC Veterans!

Meanwhile, if you were in the CCC and would like to tell your story, or about the center at which you served, or about a Corpsmember or staff member you served with, or about any bad ass projects you worked on, drop me a line. Let’s tell the world our stories!

Learning More About Ourselves Through the CCC

 Today’s post is an alumni piece written by former Fortuna Corpsmember Steven Jeffares.


Conservation can mean more than the attempts to keep certain plant and animal species, as well as ecosystems, alive.  The subtle lesson often ignored which should be quite apparent points to conservation in helping us see if we really have the will to secure or change our environment, or even the world in general.  People often see this as an over-generalization, or even a false hope, so they can confine themselves to their own misguidedness, but the more that we treat the world better, the more we are comfortable with ourselves and are willing to accept ourselves as humans.

I was often pressured by an older sibling who had previous positive experiences within the California Conservation Corps to join the CCC even well before I was old enough to join.  I often thought of it as a social challenge to me, therefore was very against the idea.  I feel maybe some others have had this dilemma.  Other people might be on the fence in deciding whether to join the California Conservation Corps to pursue some kind of self-strengthening or whether to dismiss it entirely as “just another job”.

I was not someone who had an easy life with a vast fortune of wealth or happiness just given to me.  Like many of you, I’ve had many problems to deal with on my own. I’ve had to grapple with reality in terms of what I wanted to do in life and what others had wanted me to do.

Such concepts are very necessary to survival in this world, and it is a forgotten will to live that keeps us sane. Rather, I have never known such a drive to keep going existed.  I went in the CCC thinking of it as another job; you wake up, eat breakfast then make lunch and go to work.  Well, at least when I went in it seemed to be just another job.  Until…

Until I found myself doing things I have never even imagined of doing.  I am not going to lie—some of these things may have seemed mundane or tedious at the time, but what I know now has encouraged me as a human being and as one who cares about the world around me.  Again, not easy at times…

However, I ended up joining the California Conservation Corps not really knowing what was going to happen.  A week of classes passes by fast, and before you know it, you’re out on what is referred to as ‘the grade’. On the grade, you are asked to perform numerous tasks, including a lot of work with trails, invasive species, and within the region I was stationed also helped to restore salmon habitats through rebuilding log structures in creeks.  On the way, I made many friends and superiors that I deeply appreciated.  My C-1 (the BOSS) helped me through various emotional challenges that were presented throughout my job.  Sometimes I saw it as being pushed into a mentality, but then I’d soon learn after that these lessons were sometimes the best way to deal with certain events that would pop up through future jobs and experiences.

As for the actual work, as I have mentioned before, I performed various tasks.  I had to remove invasive species from the environment.  In my northern California area, this pertained to Ammophila Arenaria (A.K.A. European Dune Grass) and Hedera Helix (A.K.A. English Ivy) mostly, though I also was instructed to eradicate other plants such as Cortaderia Selloana, commonly known as Pampas Grass.  During the summer I was also asked to trade the comfort of my apartment for two weeks for Fire Camp Support in Anderson.  This began a very emotional high tide for me, and I swam back way stronger.  Nobody was fired from our crew, and we received a very positive review for our efforts while aiding California Department of Forestry and Fire.  Also, we were asked to thin out forests of certain tree species that would encroach on not-as-rapidly growing trees and performed “Fuel Reduction”, which assisted in preventing fires from spreading to areas where people worked or lived.

One of the more exciting duties I had performed in the CCC was Salmon Restoration.  I loved it.  Never had I actually felt like I was a part of a mechanism to help something other than myself or my friends.  I had truly enjoyed watching those baby salmon swim as hard as they could as I grinded away trying to move Redwood logs into the creeks to create shelter and to help “scour” dirt away; thus creating cooler water for the salmon.  This, and removing Ammophila for the Snowy Plovers, created a strong will in me to look past myself.  Even writing this, it’s hard not to cry.  I believe this had a huge impact on my life and how I began to view myself as a living thing, with factors as any other.

Another great aspect, and this is something I’ve heard is a common task within the distinct regions of the CCC, is trail work.  It’s the job that everyone always talks about.  Everything is involved with this: Grubbing, Hedging, Pruning, and Chainsaws.  It always seemed to me a lot of people wished for these jobs, and during my time I was very honored to get to be able to work with National Park Service, who encouraged me to further pursue a job working on trails.  Unfortunately in my case I have sustained various tears and fractures to my ankles and my feet and am unable to perform that work anymore, at least until this gets better. It should be noted that none of these were work related, and the C.C.C. was compliant with allowing time off for me to recover, and my C-1 was very understanding of these injuries and would not push me past my limits.  I would heavily encourage that work, because trust me, it is much, much better than a lot of jobs you could be working.

Keeping our local environment can mean more than attempting to keep certain species and ecosystems alive.  As we live, change, and grow, I suggest that we all keep this in mind.  I may have not been able to continue with this type of work due to injuries, but I always encourage others to do so.  If I didn’t have these, you bet I’d be working with trails or preserving the nature around us.  However, even if you are injured, there are other options.  I, for one, had volunteered for the wildlife center for Humboldt County and felt it just as rewarding as the Conservation Corps.  I was not asked to do much physical labor, though I did do some out of my own will.  You can always find something to help yourself and the people around you, let alone the world.  I think the main point is:  with programs like the CCC, we’re going beyond ourselves.


Steven Jeffares

Corpsmember of 2014-2015



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